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Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Eleanor Bergstein

Triple A Entertainment Group

Palace Theatre, Manchester

22 April 2019 - 27 April 2019; 2hr 20min inc interval

Getting down, Sixties-style: Michael O'Reilly and Kira Malou in Dirty Dancing at the Palace, Manchester. All pics: Alistair Muir
Getting down, Sixties-style: Michael O'Reilly and Kira Malou in Dirty Dancing at the Palace, Manchester. All pics: Alistair Muir

Of course it was always going to make a terrific stage show. It’s the film with everything, including watermelons.

Despite being a fan, I’d never seen “the classic story on stage”. What could theatre add to the film? Well, atmosphere for starters; being in a live theatre packed with people having (sorry) the time of their lives is always uplifting.

And there's the thrill of those core anxieties: can anyone really follow Patrick Swayze? Will Baby be as Baby-like? Will 'the lift' work? Well, no, yes and yes.

Then there's the sheer, magnetic energy of it all, hopefully. Certainly the musicians and singers can belt out the songs and the dancers defy gravity and normal joint articulation.

But I had a nagging feeling we were being a little short-changed. The direction was choppy and story exposition was sometimes clunky, at times almost lost in confusingly brief flashes. And Johnny? We’ll get to Johnny shortly.

The stand-out performance for me was by Lizzie Ottley as Lisa, the daft sister, giving a performance of

the Hula song she could well be expected to repeat at every party until shaking her maracas is no longer an option. Big pants were a theme, but she rocked hers the best.

Kira Malou, as Frances “Baby” Houseman, managed with great skill her dance ineptitude and symbolic growth into personal confidence both on and off the dance floor. She had the curls and the cardigan, the courage and the convictions.

And so to Johnny. Michael O’Reilly is making his professional debut on this tour and like Mr Swayze

when he made the film, is a dancer who also acts. Unfortunately in the case of Mr O’Reilly, it shows. He and his accent seemed to flag as the production rolled on, but the occasional woodenness would

have been forgiven if his dancing hadn’t drifted off the boil too. Of course the lift was a triumph, but he was supposed to be majestic in the rest of the finale, and despite the whooping and hollering of the audience, he didn’t really pull it off.

By contrast, the dancing of Simone Covele as Penny was hugely impressive; her legs deserved their personal ovation at the end.

It was good to see the musicians get their own encore too – Colin Charles as Tito and the rest of the

band were strong throughout.

Beyond the individual performances, does the story still fly in 2019? The patriarchal family dynamics are unthinkable today, and writer Eleanor Bergstein and director Federico Bellone have dealt with this by adding depth to the relationship of the parents, softening Dr Houseman (Lynden Edwards) and giving Mrs Houseman (Lori Haley Fox) more definitive character.

The themes of class, money, power and the relentless passage of time and taste are handled very

lightly, which is a shame. These threads gave the film its heft, and it's a little cowardly that they virtually disappear here.

That said of course, we had a great time. It was Dirty Dancing, Baby came out of the corner and finally did the lift. All’s well with the world.


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