Dirty Dancing celebrated its 7000th performance at The Churchill Theatre last night and I went to their press night to see this production which I’ve heard lots about and with an open mind about what to expect.
Between 7th – 11th March 2017 Bromley is hosting the latest residency of this UK touring production and with thousands of performances behind them, this is a tour which is on a grand scale. This film to stage production follows the plot of the original film which sees Frances “Baby” Houseman spending her summer vacation at the Kellermans resort with her sister and parents. Throughout her vacation she is introduced to Johnny Castle, the hotel stud, and we see a relationship form between them of dance, love and sex.
The 1960’s musical soundtrack provides the backdrop for this show, with energetic choreography from Carlie Milner leading the way as Penny Johnson, with her impressive energy and talent. I have seen and enjoyed lots of live theatre and Carlie gave a great performance throughout the show and one that stands out in the performances I have seen over the years. There are many dance routines in the show rather than music, there are also a handful of vocals by Michael Kent and Daniela Pobega, although throughout the show the sound had been mixed too band heavy and it was difficult to hear them both clearly. I would’ve liked to have heard more vocals throughout the show rather than recorded music. Top marks to Lizzie Ottley who played Lisa, Baby’s Sister and her hilarious hula routine – she’s a great performer!
Lewis Griffths, playing Johnny has a large stage presence and takes centre stage throughout many of the dance numbers showcasing his dance ability. Baby, played by Katie Hartland, whilst playing her part well from her journey in maturity to becoming a raunchy dancer, I struggled to warm to her character and didn’t invest in her relationship with Johnny. Unfortunately her character didn’t come across strongly. Her dances with Johnny should help the transition in her maturity but they largely failed to convince me. Whilst the choreography is followed well, there is very little natural chemistry between them and the development in their relationship.
The set has been constructed and thought of well and the main house has a lot of revolves, although I did feel it kept coming on and off for too many scene changes that lasted, in some case seconds, which gave the performance a rushed fee. The dialogue also felt as though it was being hurried through, rather than absorbing the emotion of the story.
There were a large number of set changes and unfortunately they often came with a number of issues in their transition including set pieces colliding, noisy changes on stage right which became a distraction and a car scene which despite a quick turnaround in set pieces, was on stage for less than 60 seconds and the lighting not being in the right place meaning the actors were in the dark. I also noticed the masking on stage right was not in place all the time and the audience could therefore see directly into the wings and in the quick change areas. I also witnessed one of the actors in the wings doing press ups for a period of time. There were also some sound issues with some lines being cut-off.
Projection is effectively used in a few scenes, however for the use of the projected lake for Johnny and Baby to practice their dance lift, provided the audience with some laughs. However as this is a such a key and emotional highlight of the story – I felt this scene had been sacrificed by this use of projection, which made the audience laugh whereas it should’ve been more of an emotive scene.
This is a good theatre experience for lovers of the original film or if you want to find out what the Dirty Dancing craze is all about. Whilst I left the theatre having enjoyed my evening and the performances on stage, I was still left wanting a slicker and polished production.
Dirty Dancing continues its UK tour and tickets can be found here.