La vie en rose: Dirty Dancing @DDonstage

Just like you can't keep Baby in the corner, you also can't let the West End live without the musical Dirty Dancing for long. Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage is back in the West End at the Dominion Theatre. I'm assuming the classic story has been added to the title since more time has elapsed since the film came out and today than when the film came out and the period where the action takes place. 

Dirty Dancing has been a regular feature on the West End since it first premiered here in 2006. But in the space of the Dominion Theatre, everything about it enhanced and enlarged. The theatre is big. The volume is cranked up, so you feel the bass. The dancing is full of high kicks. The mousy role of Baby, here played by Kira Malou, seems even mousier. And Michael O'Reilly playing the Patrick Swayze role, is so big that when he appears in his underwear in one scene you wonder where the show is going. But don’t worry this is a family show. The only thing dirty in this show really is the title. 

Musical adaptations of films can be a mixed bag. They must deliver the obligatory lines to elicit the Pavlovian audience response (such as "Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner") but stand on their own as entertainment. Dirty Dancing as a film also seems to be a unique film to come out during the 80s AIDS crisis, directed by a gay man who shot Patrick Swayze with such homoerotic affection that he succeeded in capturing both the teen girl and gay fanboys in the process. With a series of cliches for a story, catchy songs, sexy dancing and Jennifer Grey's comic timing, it seemed to hit the spot. 

Translated for the stage, the decision to go big and loud means there's never a dull moment. Even if our leading couple is too busy dancing, lifting and flexing to sing, there are enough knowing looks from the performers who know that none of us is taking it too seriously.

Kudos to Lydia Sterling, Colin Charles and Danny Colligan, who provide most of the musical backdrop. And the energy of the dance ensemble keeps things visually alive. And Charlotte Gooch is a standout as the unlucky Penny. She high kicks her way throughout the show, even while suffering from the after-effects of a botched abortion. 

There's even a backstory to make the creepy grandson of the original show seem like a hero heading off to the south to challenge segregation and racial segregation. Maybe you can have too much of a thing. But it’s easy to give in to the lure of the brand, the music and Baby and Johnny. I just hope there's a sequel one day told from Penny's perspective. She is a dancer who was thrown out on the street by her mother as a young girl and then gets knocked up by an Ivy League waiter, has an abortion and survives and can still have children. Baby just carried a watermelon. There’s a story demanding to be told in this franchise! 

Directed by Federico Bellone, with choreography by Austin Wilks, Dirty Dancing, the classic story on stage, is at the Dominion Theatre until 29 April. 


Photos by Mark Senior

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