Eleanor Bergstein's Dirty Dancing was not transferred to the stage for me, twenty-three year old male with no real knowledge of the film beyond "that lift" and something about a girl who inexplicably got married to a watermelon.
It was, however, created for the film's devoted masses and who, diligently filing into the fabulously fuchsia Kings Theatre, sang, yelled and wolf-whistled at its exuberant cast. The response is almost Pavlovian, the audience salivating at the story of that slow-burning summer romance and buzzing with happiness as they try to guess which scene, line or bare chest comes next.
The show could not exist without its audience's love. It trades on the currency of the film, presenting rather undeveloped relationships and half-baked characters, safe in the knowledge that the crowd already knows why nobody puts Baby in the corner. The plot’s romance springs from almost nowhere and even songs like "Hungry Eyes" serves little dramatic purpose.
Maybe it is complacency of expectation but this is one of the only musicals ever written where the lovers do not croon and swoon at each other. As a consequence, Emily Holt and Paul Michael-Jones seldom find that electric, hyper-realism chemistry which musical theatre usually affords its heroes.
Negatives aside, your twenty-two year old male saw much that he enjoyed. Its set, a revolving stage of video screens and beach-house slats, is at the very height of current West End mod-cons. Its projections fill the stage beautifully with some stunning images and Tim Mitchell's lighting brings a sizzling Spanish heat to its many jives and mambos.
Kate Champion's lithe choreography is surprisingly intricate, stretching its troupe around enough some delicious cha-chas and twists and the excellent Charlotte Gooch slides through the oily, highly-sexualised routines like a greased up Swayze as good time girl Penny.
And there are some excellent performances in the ensemble. The disappointingly underused, soulful Shona Lindsay deserves a leading role of her own and Thomas Aldridge cuts through the fifties stereotypes with a smooth Americana vocal.
As a piece of theatre, Dirty Dancing puts itself in the corner and yet the audience seem to be having the time of their lives (it had to be done). Most of the crowd would have happily paid the ticket price for the finale alone and Baby knows that it is not for me, a young upstart, to challenge that happy nostalgia.