Dirty Dancing (review)

Emily Holt (Baby) and Paul-Michael Jones (Johnny) in Dirty Dancing. Photo by Alastair Muir
Emily Holt (Baby) and Paul-Michael Jones (Johnny) in Dirty Dancing. Photo by Alastair Muir
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FLIRTING with the hired help is pretty much a rite of passage for teenage girls forced to endure family holidays. Having a fling with a sexy, if troubled, dance teacher by the name of Patrick Swayze was the ultimate fantasy for girls back in 1987 and things haven’t changed since.

Paul-Michael Jones may not be in the same stratosphere as Swayze but he comes pretty close. Dirty Dancing has mamboed its way off the big screen and onto the stage for a nation-wide tour and the lucky people of Beds and Bucks have it in residence at Milton Keynes Theatre until May 26.

Charlotte Gooch (red dress), Paul Michael Jones, Emily Holt.

Charlotte Gooch (red dress), Paul Michael Jones, Emily Holt.

This is a blockbuster of a show but the hyped up audience are seemingly there for only two things - a certain dance and a certain phrase that once uttered causes the over-excited women in the stalls to squeal and whoop with delight.

The acting is no great shakes but the cast have all the right moves to make this a sensation of a musical.

Jones, playing dance teacher Johnny Castle, is a former champion Latin American and ballroom dancer, and his hips gyrate completely independently from the rest of his beautifully toned torso. He is strictly a ten when it comes to strutting his samba.

Dirty Dancing is set at an upmarket hotel that is based on a real vacation destination, Grossinger’s Hotel, in the Catskills, upstate New York, where wealthy Jewish families liked to holiday in the 1960s.

It was a luxury resort where families could enjoy fresh air pursuits during the day and be entertained by cabarets and dances in the evening.

Castle is the resident dance teacher who ends up having to teach a gauche young girl, Frances “Baby” Houseman the steps to his most successful dances so that she can fill in during a demonstration for guests.

Baby, as she’s known, is sweet and naive and falls head-over-heels in love. But will this holiday romance waltz off into the sunset or will their partnership survive the judges’ verdicts?

The playlist is packed with early 1960s hits including Be My Baby, Just One Look, Save The Last Dance for Me and There Will Never Be Another You.

But it’s when the band strikes up (I’ve Had) the Time of My Life that the (predominately female) audience starts to melt in their seats. By the finale they’re ready to be swept onto the dance floor.

Emily Holt’s Baby is very like Jennifer Grey’s film portrayal of the role. She oozes personality and is adept at the comedy dialogue but, unlike Grey and Swayze, there’s no spark between her and Jones. Both play to the front of house instead of each other. Yes, Castle is arrogant and enjoys the attention, but there are occasions when they are supposed to be falling in love and it feels forced and unnatural.

The rest of the cast are talented singers and dancers (it was great to see again Northampton dancer Jonathan Ollivier, who was Matthew Bourne’s leading man in Swan Lake, though disappointing that such a charismatic and sexy dancer was given a minor role in DD) who slickly help drive the story forward.

My only criticism is that director Sarah Tipple, obviously not wanting to disappoint fans of the movie, has tried to cram every line and scene (plus a few more) from the film into the stage production when the story would seem less rushed with a bit of judicial editing.

But fans of the film won’t be disappointed. This is a high octane powerhouse of a musical that fires on all cylinders.

For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

ANNE COX