Review by Daz Gale
One of the most iconic movies of all time returns to the West End stage this week as Dirty Dancing arrives at the corner of Tottenham Court Road for a limited season. Based on the timeless movie from 1987, it was first adapted for the stage in 2004 and has enjoyed multiple runs in the West End including five years at the Aldwych Theatre. Now back in the capital after five years absence, did I have the time of my life there?
Telling the story of 'Baby' as she falls for dance instructor Johnny, the plot has always been thin at best, but who cares when the dancing is so good? Michael O'Reilly fills in the shoes played by Patrick Swayze in the movie, while Kira Malou is Baby. Both are returning to roles they have previously played and give accomplished performances, though the chemistry between them isn't as strong as I would have hoped.
One of the standouts in the cast is Carlie Milner as Penny. An incredible dancer and full of charisma, the moments she is on stage are among the highlights of the evening. Sadly, these moments are few and far between and her character feels underwritten. Lori Haley Fox and Lynden Edwards are wonderful as Baby's parents while Colin Charles oozes charm as Tito Suarez.
For a show like Dirty Dancing, you would expect top notch choreography, and thankfully Austin Wilks' doesnt disaoppoint, delivering what is undoubtedly the strongest element of the production, with the iconic closing number '(I've Had) The Time Of My Life' every bit as satisfying as you would hope - complete with THAT legendary lift.
Sadly though, this a production full of flaws. The Dominion Theatre is always a hard sell, with its massive stage proving intimidating to shows that often struggle to fill it. Never has this been felt more than in Dirty Dancing which looks sparse and unfinished, never quite being able to fill the huge space. This feels like a massive missed opportunity. Small set pieces make it feel like this venue was not in consideration when it came to designing the production. While it is common for touring productions to move straight into West End theatres especially when it is for a limited run, a little more thought to the logistics of it wouldn't have gone amiss.
The pacing of the show is its biggest problem with some moments falling flat and others quite literally ending in complete silence. Clunky and uneven transitions between scenes make it a tough watch, taking you out of the escapism. While the lighting has moments of brilliance, particularly when it bathes the cast in a beautiful pink glow, at other times it feels too dark and not at all fitting for the action on the stage.
Another issue is Dirty Dancing doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Is it a musical? A play with music? It even feels panto-esque at times. If you are coming to the show expecting to hear classics from the movie such as 'Hungry Eyes' and 'Hey! Baby' performed on stage, you will be disappointed to hear the pre-recorded versions from the movie soundtrack playing on stage instead with 'She's Like The Wind' reduced to an instrumental. The rare moments where cast members do sing live really elevate the piece, with Mimi Rodrigues Alves delivering a rousing rendition of 'Yes' and Samuel Bailey showcasing stunning vocals on 'In The Still of The Night' before the two come together for a live duet of THAT incredible song. it felt like these particular cast members carried the show like Baby carried a watermelon. More live vocals would have definitely lifted it.
Ultimately, Dirty Dancing isn't a bad show, just flawed with a lot of missed opportunities. The elements it does get right such as the exceptional dancing make it clear this is a show with a lot of potential. With some fantastic performances, this is definitely a fun night out. You may not have the time of your life, but there are certainly worse ways to spend your time.
Dirty Dancing plays at the Dominion Theatre until April 16th 2022. Get tickets here.
Photos by Mark Senior