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The Theatreguide.London Review

Dirty Dancing
Aldwych Theatre 2006 - 2011; Piccadilly Theatre 2013-2014

(The 2013 version had cast changes.)

This stage version of the hit 1987 film pretty much duplicates the original slavishly, scene for scene. All that's missing is the soul, the sexiness, the heat, the excitement - the fun.

In short, go buy the film. There is no reason whatever to see this lifeless imitation.

Film and musical both follow a 1963 middle-class teenager on holiday with her family at a resort hotel, where she finds that the staff kids, and their rock'n'roll dancing, are far more fun than charades and miniature golf. Her romance with a working-class boy, a few melodramatic twists, and some sensual dance numbers make for a nice fairy tale.

Think of Grease if played seriously, or Saturday Night Fever set a decade earlier, and you have a sense of the flavour.

The flavour of the film, I mean. Despite the minimal changes in the stage version, it is as bland and sexless as an Andy Williams record.

What went wrong? My 13-year-old companion spotted part of the problem even before I did. As she explained to me in the interval, the fact that it followed the film so closely meant that at every moment we were being reminded that we had seen this before, only better.

The stage version of Fame, which she enjoyed, varied enough from its source to be taken and judged on its own.

(I've got to start taking this kid to more shows, to help me with my reviews.)

She also used the word 'cheesy,' and it was noticeable that some of the would-be romantic or sexy moments inspired giggles of derision in the audience

To this I would add a very basic casting error that is identical to the one made by the producers of Saturday Night Fever a couple of seasons back.

The whole premise of the show is that the boy is the best dancer and sexiest guy around. But Josef Brown, though handsome enough, has no special charisma and is far from the best dancer onstage. In the group numbers he is repeatedly lost in the swirl of the chorus, half of whom are flashier than he.

The dance stars of the show are Nadia Coote as the abortion girl, and the chorus, who do get a few chances to fill the stage with colour and movement.

As the heroine, Georgina Rich is saddled with a lot of incredibly clunky dialogue as the script tries clumsily to remind us that there was a world of Civil Rights marches and Vietnam out there. And in a show whose backbone is her blossoming through dance, she doesn't really get to dance fully until the big final number.

The film was anachronistically set to mainly 1980s music, but the stage version uses at least snippets of almost 50 1960s songs, about half of them in the original recordings, the rest by the orchestra or back-up singers. The principals quite noticeably never sing.

Regular readers know that I have no objection to theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre. That's a legitimate audience whose desire for a special-occasion Fun Night Out ought to be served. But that audience deserves far better than this.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Dirty Dancing - Aldwych 2006

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