Dirty Dancing at Richmond Theatre is a true tribute to the film, and has everything you could ask for from a night at the theatre, writes Amelia Isaacs.
I have something to admit.
Before last weekend, I had never seen the film Dirty Dancing. I know, it was a gaping hole in my film education.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Patrick Swayze, who plays heartthrob dance instructor Johnny, and I thought that the iconic dance lift and classic “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” were the only two highlights.
Little did I know.
For those of you as uneducated as I was this time last week, here’s what you need to know:
It is the summer of 1963. A summer of transition.
Frances “Baby” Houseman is on holiday with her parents at a resort where all the waiters are Ivy League students there to entertain the daughters, and all the entertainment staff are kept far away.
Casually there’s also a subplot involving a botched, illegal abortion and at Richmond Theatre the stage show even grazes the topic of civil rights in an addition that doesn’t necessarily land, but also doesn’t detract from the fun of the performance.
In the role of Baby, Kira Malou starts off perfectly awkward and comical, adding an extra level of humour to the role compared to Jennifer Grey’s film performance.
She begins suitably bad at dancing, and her on-stage dance skills develop alongside her connection with Michael O’Reilly’s Johnny.
While her commitment to activism and helping people comes across as a bit foot-stomping at times, the depiction of a young woman in the 60s who stands up for what she believes in and is enrolled to study economics of developing countries rather than English, is a reminder of how progressive this story was.
O’Reilly is definitely a hit with the audience, with added cheers and whoops any time things get a bit more…physical, whether that means removing his shirt, grinding his hips or just showing Baby how to dirty dance.
He also shows off excellent dance skills, performing a number of gorgeous numbers with incredible partner Carlie Milner as Penny Johnson alongside helping the stumbling Baby.
The ensemble dance numbers are where the show shines.
When the performers are left to dance, spin, jump, twist and grind along to classic songs from the movie, it is just pure joy.
The music obviously plays a central role in the show, and a record player sits on the edge of the set in addition to Kettleman’s band appearing throughout the night.
They provide great live music and it is fun to see them on-stage performing for both the camp guests and the theatre audience, even mock swooning at Johnny after he finishes off teaching a dance class.
Amber Sylvia Edwards plays an excellent Elizabeth, an added character in the stage show, who appears every now and then, singing classics like “Yes!” before disappearing again.
Samuel Bailey plays Johnny’s sweet and friendly cousin Billy who introduces Baby to the world of the entertainment staff, and most importantly provides an excuse for Baby’s iconically cringeworthy line: “I carried a watermelon.”
After not much stage time, Bailey gets his moment with a beautiful rendition of “In The Still Of The Night” before joining Edwards in a duet for “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”.
The two perform almost in shadow to Malou and O’Reilly who get their moment with the finally successful magical lift at the end, which they make look effortless, to even more — well deserved — cheers from the audience.
The show is a true tribute to the film, and has everything you could ask for from a night at the theatre: classic songs, big ensemble dance numbers, feelgood romance, iconic lifts and good old fashioned nostalgia.
Dirty Dancing is on at Richmond Theatre until 9 October and then touring.
Feature image credit: Alastair Muir