DIRTY DANCING AT THE WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND THEATRE
Theatre Run: Tuesday 23 September - Saturday 11 October 2014
Performance Reviewed: Wednesday 24 September (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
As far as labeling goes, Dirty Dancing is something of a tough cookie (watermelon?) to define. It can’t strictly be classed as a musical - the show’s marketing carefully labelling it ‘The Classic Story On Stage’ - yet certainly offers some of the flavouring and ingredients of one, though when members of the company occasionally take to a microphone to sing it is more often than not contextualised within the show’s own universe. There is, unsurprisingly, plenty of dance showcased front and centre, though one could even make an argument for that not being it’s principle MO. What we are left with, then, is a makeshift hybrid of sorts, a synergy which lifts and borrows components of different genre’s and approaches and, under the familiar and beloved template of it’s 1987 movie namesake, surprisingly harmonises them into a thoroughly feel-good and irrepressibly vibrant evening of pure entertainment. Yes, it’s formulaic, safe and almost cookie-cutter in it’s approach to narrative (and, it has to be said, comedy) and there’s enough cheddar in there to make France lactose intolerant, but in reality audiences going in to watch Dirty Dancing aren’t likely to be expecting Sondheim.
For those unfamiliar with the plot of the film (which the shows follows almost to a tee), Dirty Dancing is set in the summer of 196 at Kellerman’s, a respectable American vacation resort where Dr. Jake Houseman (James Coombes) and his family are regular guests. His youngest daughter, Frances, colloquially known as ‘Baby’ (Roseanna Frascona) is a curious, well-meaning and spirited young woman who finds herself drawn to and involved with the resorts entertainment team, namely it’s debonair dance instructor Johnny Castle (Gareth Bailey). The plot fumbles along fairly predictably, and whilst it’s relatively inconsequentially and small-scale fare, the characters and performances are winning enough to become invested and there is plenty of vitality to the dance sequences in particular to diminish the fairly pedestrian nature of the plot.
In fact, despite not being exclusively a dance piece, the stellar choreography by Craig Wilson and Glenn Wilkinson provide the evening with much of it’s impact, as well as the fantastic slew of jukebox hits which will be instantly familiar to fans of the film (Hey! Baby, Hungry Eyes and the Academy Award-winning The Time of My Life to name just a few), aided ably by the cast who throw themselves at it all with incredible gusto and ability. Roseanna Frascona, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the film’s Jennifer Grey, is perfect in the role, imbuing her movement with a terrific sense of character and authenticity, evidently realising that acting and dancing can and should be one and the same, particularly in a production such as this. Gareth Bailey is a commanding presence as Johnny, and despite the very occasional accent wobble, puts in a terrific performance, doing the late Patrick Swayze proud with a diverse and masterfully demonstrated flurry of dance style. There was also an audible appreciate for his aptly rippling physique from more than a few members of the audience.
Amongst the supporting cast, James Coombes layers his Dr Houseman to make him an empathetic and likeable figure where he could so easily have been the archetypal disapproving father figure. Claire Rogers dazzles early on as Johnny’s purely platonic dance partner Penny, and again makes her a more endearing figure than could have been. And despite some of the comedy feeling a little old hat or forced here and there, both Alexander Wolfe and Jessie-Lou Yates are genuinely funny and showcase some terrific comedic chops as the heir of the Kellerman enterprise, Neil, and Baby’s older sister, the hilariously tonedeaf Lisa, respectively.
From a technical perspective, the show’s simplistic staging design proves to be surprisingly efficient, a heavy reliance on projections and digital images coupled with a rotating centre stage and selective use of props and flats able to create a veritable sense of place and atmosphere, the only exception being a recreation of the film’s famous practising-in-the-sea sequence, which here comes across as unintentionally funny and almost pantomime in execution.
As self-sabotaging as it may sound, one almost ponders the need to review Dirty Dancing. It’s target audience is easy to surmise and suppose, and there is absolutely no disputing that this is a show that is absolute perfection for hen nights, girly nights out and any other such awfully stereotypical niche. However, even those outside of the assumed audience should consider giving the show a chance, for it absolutely erupts with energy and joy throughout, and after a somewhat uncertain and apprehensive first half hour, the show rapidly got the audience on side. By the time the famous finale sequence rolled around, and the theatre took to its feet, even I, a reluctant and fairly cynical viewer of the original film, had to acknowledge what a terrific time had been had and how two and a half hours had flown by in an utterly enjoyable, supercharged experience of song, dance and perfectly inoffensive bonhomie. It may not win over everybody, and it’s not going to be bothering the Olivier’s any time soon, but Dirty Dancing is the kind of unassuming evening of straight up, unapologetic feel-good that is wholly recommendable to all, and indeed all but the most dour of theatre-goers should think twice about putting this particular Baby in the corner.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
+ Go in knowing what to expect, and get exactly that - the time of your life!
+ Irrepressible, vibrant, feel-good - all the theatre-going staples
+ Terrific choreography, particularly well demonstrated by Bailey, Frascona and Rogers
+ The kind of light-hearted escapism that is very easy to recommend
+ Plenty of sex appeal (on both fronts!)
- May be too light and cheesy for some
- Potentially less mileage for a more typical male audience
Alternatively, call the Box Office directly on 01902 429212 now to book your tickets!
Press tickets for this performance of Dirty Dancing were provided courtesy of the Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.