Set in the summer of 1963, Eleanor Bergstein’s tale tells the story of 17 year-old "Baby" Houseman who, while on vacation with her parents in New York's Catskill Mountains, has her life turned upside down when she inadvertently gate-crashes a staff party and comes face to face with resort dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze in the film versions). Baby's life changes forever and she is thrown into the spotlight as Johnny's leading lady both on and off the dance floor, learning as much about life and love as she does about dancing!
Following the film plotline very closely, there are many iconic scenes lovingly recreated to delight ardent fans of the original. With plenty of 60s nostalgia, a cast of superb dancers, Kate Champion’s sizzling hot choreography, and a 35-strong score of such classics as “Hey Baby”, “She’s Like The Wind”, “Do You Love Me?” and the classic “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” Dirty Dancing has everything going for it. The fact that it doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts then is a real shame.
Although no Swayze, Paul Michael-Jones as Johnny is charismatic and his routines with dance partner Penny (Charlotte Gooch) are electrifying. Emily Holt’s journey, as Baby, from innocent daddy’s girl to young woman is both charming and believable. There are fine vocals from Thomas Aldridge as Billy, Colin Charles (Tito), Aimee Atkinson (Elizabeth) and the woefully underused Shona Lindsay (Marjorie) and strong support too from Lynden Edwards (Jake), Joe Evans (Neil) and Emilia Williams (Lisa).
The flexible set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, takes full advantage of the latest technology, projecting a startling array of impressive backdrops, and allows the seven-piece orchestra to be placed firmly at the centre of the action.
Perhaps there are just too many songs to get through, or too many incidental characters, or just not enough direction, but the overall piece seems muddled. A victim of its own success too, the performers, on press night at least, have to battle through a relentless cacophony of wolf-whistles and heckling from an over-excited audience one can only describe as drunk on the euphoria of watching replayed iconic scenes from their favourite movie. Where this level of participation works for The Rocky Horror Show, it mortally wounds Dirty Dancing, as any poignancy or sexual tension is lost to pantomime.
The show really comes alive in its breath-taking dance routines, and in the few ‘traditional’ musical sequences, and it is not until the final scene, to the strains of “The Time of Your Life”, where Baby finally shakes off the sexual repression of her upbringing and dances with Jonny in a public display of their love - culminating in that much anticipated ‘lift’ - that they truly earn the exultant response from the audience.
A good show if not exactly “the time of your life”, and if you loved the film and love dancing then you will enjoy this. But lose the hen party atmosphere and tidy up some rough edges and it could be so much better.