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Review: Dirty Dancing (Phoenix Theatre)

The stage adaptation of the 1987 film arrives in the West End for a limited run

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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The film is a classic, the original stage version was a massive disappointment and this new touring production -in the West End for a limited Christmas season - falls somewhere in between.

This isn't a traditional stage musical: there's little actual live singing but much dancing, dirty or otherwise, and huge chunks of script that sound pretty naff when delivered in the flattened monotone that most of the current cast employ when not required to dance. The first twenty minutes of the second half prove especially excruciating as it's almost wall-to-wall dialogue as the plot sorts itself out. Independent-minded, watermelon-carrying Baby falls for sexy dance teacher Johnny and helps with the aftermath of the unwanted pregnancy of his partner Penny (Carlie Milner, terrifically loose-limbed).

Katie Harland as Baby bears an uncanny resemblance to Jennifer Grey in the original film but struggles to find the stroppy vulnerability that made the character so originally compelling. Opposite her, Lewis Griffiths looks stunning as not-really bad boy Johnny, and dances up a storm, but registers no inner life whatsoever which means that when he finally falls for Baby there is almost zero emotional impact.

The appalling sound design doesn't help, making every cast member sound as though they are at the bottom of a well. The show works best when the terrific ensemble are executing Gillian Bruce's derivative but undeniably exhilarating choreography, although the Phoenix's stage looks a bit small for them to really cut loose.

The music, apart from the triumphant "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" finale, feels disappointingly pedestrian. Also there is little sense of period in that the score uses 1960s classics alongside songs like "Yes" and "Hungry Eyes", which reek of the 1980s, though in all fairness that was also an issue with the 1987 movie.

It's not a horrible way to spend an evening, but it does fall unfortunately between two stools in that it doesn't find a truly satisfying theatrical life of its own while also failing to replicate the tear-inducing punch of the original movie.

Dirty Dancing runs at the Phoenix Theatre until 31 December.

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