Dirty Dancing at The Orchard Theatre

I am going to preface this review by letting you know that I am not a huge Dirty Dancing fan. I’ve seen it numerous times of course what 40 something woman who loves dancing hasn’t? But I am certainly no superfan and this is not a show I would ordinarily choose to go and see.  I suppose that would explain why after 15 years, I am seeing the stage show for the first time. I am not a fan of screen to stage musicals, I am not a fan of that ‘hen night’ vibe that shows like dirty dancing tend to attract and I am certainly not a fan of audience participation (unwanted or not).

BUT WOW. I can honestly say that was one of the best dance musicals I have seen. 

The choreography from Austin Wilkes was perfectly crafted to show us the raunchy 60’s whilst being completely up to date throughout the whole show, with enough nods to the original choreography to please the super fans. The dancers throughout are strong, flexible, precise, and authentic, so much passion and energy.

The clever 3D lighting logo on the open staging at the opening of the show immediately transports the audience to 1969, the clever use of haze to gives that 60’s film quality to the production.

The show drops us straight into the film, and into Kellermans holiday resort, however the show really started for me when we entered the staff party, and watched the fabulous ‘Do you Love me?’ There were legs and backbends everywhere and I couldn’t take it in, for any dancer, this would be a dream scene to perform in, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch. 

Frances ’Baby’ Housten (Kira Malou) gave an assured performance, her portrayal of the gawky uncomfortable teen was perfection, just the right balance of comedy and reality.   As the show goes on, her relationship with Johnny Castle (Micheal O’Riely) was natural and unforced, although I wish in the earlier scenes we could have seen a bit more anticipation of the undeniable chemistry they have. 

I am really not a fan of the raucous behaviour of certain groups of women, leering and cheering every time O’Riely took an item of clothing off and cant help wonder if this would be as accepted if genders were reversed, however this is not the productions fault.

A surprise highlight for me was Tito Suarez portrayed by Colin Charles.  He was an absolutely fabulous performer and his rendition of Love Man was a triumph!

The second act gave us more character development and there was more of an emphasis on the American civil rights movement in this production than I remember in the film, this was handled well and sensitively, and at just the right level.

There were only two disappointments from me about this production, and the first is that there are only 4 cast members who sing! Don’t get me wrong, they do it very well in particular Samuel Bailey’s impressive range shown throughout ‘In the Still of the night’ and Amber Sylvia Edwards’ haunting version of ‘We shall overcome’ are big highlights.  However, as a musical it would be nice to hear the main characters sing, there were plenty of opportunities that seemed to lend themselves to this, so I am still unsure that it was the correct choice to keep them silent.

There were some technical issues, which could have been better, some of the follow spots were very noticeably late/too bright/changing brightness suddenly part way through a scene etc. and occasionally the music was a little loud over dialogue but overall the show was slick and well thought out.

Lizzie Ottley as Lisa Housman absolutely stole the show with her hilarious Hula and the coconut shells were a brilliant touch. Carlie Milner was an absolute tour de force as Penny Johnson, her dancing is sublime and her acting is just as good in particular her relationship with the suitably sensible Dr Jake Housman portrayed by Lynden Edwards.

However for me the absolute stars of the show were the ensemble Danielle Cato, James McHugh, Benjamin Harrold,  Marie Finlayson, Danielle Lockwood, Rishard-Kyro Nelson, Lee Nicolson, Charlotte Oliffe, Patricia Wilkins, as well as the multi-talented Kellermans Band that led us through the whole show playing an impressive 11 instruments between the 3 of them.  Bravo Miles Russell, Ben Mabberley and Tom Mussell!

Overall, I left feeling uplifted, happy in fact some might say….I had the time of my life. Dirty Dancing was a stark reminder to not knock anything until you’ve tried it! Totally recommended.

Review by Amy Farlie.

Dirty Dancing is playing at the Orchard Theatre until 20th November and from then it continues its nationwide tour.

If you like this review you might also like my review of The Rocky Horror Show, The Play That Goes Wrong and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

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