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Dirty Dancing (Tour - Leeds)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Dirty Dancing was released, but judging by the reception the crowd-pleasing stage show received from the Leeds audience on the current leg of its national tour, the enthusiasm for it seems as great as ever.

For the uninitiated, Dirty Dancing concerns the coming of age of Frances 'Baby' Houseman Emily Holt, a teenager growing up in sixties America during the period "before President Kennedy got shot". With civil rights and Vietnam rumbling in the background, Baby joins her family on a summer holiday at a resort in upstate New York. There she meets bad boy dance instructor, Johnny Castle Paul-Michael Jones, learns some moves, and in the process is transformed from Baby, the wide-eyed idealist, into the worldly Frances.

While there are obvious advantages to staging a show based on an iconic film, not least a loyal audience, most of whom can recite the dialogue by heart, this is also its main problem. While it's all there, down to Baby's perm and the watermelons, there's something not quite right.

To their credit, the creative team, including original screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, and director, Sarah Tipple, have gone to great lengths to replicate cult scenes from the film. Some, in particular Baby and Johnny dancing on the log, work well, while others, such as the lift practicing sequence, don't quite come off.

However, the main problem is that the show lacks dramatic tension and passion; relying too much on leads that fail to generate the necessary chemistry and charisma. There's no doubt they, along with the rest of the cast, can move (especially Jones), but they fail to bring the authenticity needed to drive the story towards its joyous all singing, all dancing climax.

What holds it all together, and goes some way to putting the 'dirty' into all the dancing, is the music; a fabulous mix of old and new (well, eighties), spanning Motown, salsa and rock and roll, with a few solid power ballads thrown in. Some of the tunes survive in their original form, while others have been recreated by the wonderful orchestra under musical director, Tom Deering, and the talented supporting cast, especially Colin Charles, channelling Otis Redding, and Thomas Aldridge, who contributes a standout, and unexpected, vocal display. And the sound of Solomon Burke's (recorded) voice filling the spectacular Leeds Grand auditorium is almost worth the ticket price alone.

At around two and a half hours (including interval), the show is mostly well paced, although some of the scenes do drag a little, and it should be noted there is the occasional use of profanity and discussion of adult themes. 

Overall, this is a decent and lively cover version of the original film with the potential to have audiences dancing in the aisles for a long time to come. While it may not be truly worthy of its steamy title, what ultimately saves the show is the vibrant choreography, the damn fine soundtrack and the occasional flash of the spirit that makes the film such an endearing, and enduring, treat.


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