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Review: Dirty Dancing at the New Alexandra Theatre

There are always high expectations when a stage production is made into a film. There are even higher expectations when a hugely popular, iconic movie is made into a stage show. Dirty Dancing – The Classic Show on Stage, currently at the New Alexandra Theatre, is a stage version of the absolutely iconic movie from 1987 with Patrick Swayze. It’s the summer of 1963, and the Housman family are on vacation.

Over their holiday, middle-class “Baby” Housman (Katie Eccles) learns to dance and falls in love with working-class dance instructor Jonny Castle (performed by understudy Robert Colvin). The stage production is a near faithful representation of the film, though at times apparently translated without fully considering whether scenes work as part of the stage setting. Many scenes are very short, piecemeal, and sometimes even pointless, such as a brief call for audience participation which feels present only to add a few minutes.

Rather than an adaptation of a film made suitable for the stage, it is thus at times clunky and can make little to no sense as a theatrical piece. The set design is beautiful, but unnecessary – the constant scene changes become tiring and irritating, especially when they add little to the play as a whole.

The set design is beautiful, but unnecessary

The designers were however incredibly imaginative in creating the scene changes necessary for the week in which Baby learns Jonny and Penny’s (Carlie Milner) mambo routine. There were flashing lights, change of shirts, crossing to and across the stage, even a rainstorm.

The dancing on a beam and the famous lift being learned in the lake were achieved by having a semi-transparent film with a video projection of the lake. The end result was hilarious, and I think they must have intended it to be funny in the absence of carting a pool onto the stage. The dancing was incredible, with choreographers taking from the choreography within the film and running with it, creating exciting routines and daring lifts.

The skill of the dancers was incredibly apparent and utilised dancer’s strengths, such as Carlie Milner’s incredibly flexible routines. The music was good, and a singing character was added, but there seemed to be an aim of “how many tracks can we fit in two hours” which is somewhat frustrating. This was definitely a play with music, rather than a musical.

There were several attempts at belting out a few of the tracks, largely unsuccessfully as they didn’t fit the narrative, and it simply made no sense for the characters to be singing.

The dancing was incredible, with…exciting routines and daring lifts

The cast were excellent dancers, but sometimes felt stiff and like they hadn’t quite warmed up to the role. Penny provided a little bit of drama but for the most part, the characters didn’t quite hit the mark. The cringe-factor has also been upped, an impressive feat for a show based on an 80’s film, but it was incredibly cringey in an awkward clich?-ridden way.

Though they handled Baby learning to dance incredibly well, emphasising how she can’t dance and doesn’t just become excellent overnight, there were several cringe-worthy moments resulting from the American accents, singing or dancing, many of which were probably not intentional.

In trying to recreate the film, this play has failed to effectively adapt to a stage setting

In trying to recreate the film, this play has failed to effectively adapt to a stage setting. It was clunky and cinematic, stilted rather than flowing between scenes to advance the story. If you are a fan of the film however, it is a fairly faithful representation and was enjoyable for that reason, even if I do not think it works as a stage production at all.

Excellent dancing, but an over-reliance on the film lets this stage production down.

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