With a charm that lies somewhere between ’60s kitsch and ’80s soft-focus romance, the Patrick Swayze-starring 1987 film ‘Dirty Dancing’ remains a brilliant exercise in manipulating unseasoned female sexuality. The stage adaptation, penned by original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, ran for a record-breaking five years at the Aldywych from 2006 – mainly by sticking to the goofy lines and pelvic grinds we all knew by heart.
But how many times can you replicate the rush of first love? Sarah Tipple’s touring production of the show now returns to the West End to fill the gap left by flop Spice Girls musical ‘Viva Forever!’. And though still blessed with knicker-flashing choreography (worked by Kate Champion) and a cracking soundtrack (divided between a live band, some awkwardly directed cast vocals and the original recordings), this time around it’s more a case of temporary bunk-up than transformative love affair.
Scenes feel cursory and the cast’s energy is slightly end-of-season in this compact, projection-dependent staging. As the awkward teen blossoming in the hands of a renegade blue-collar dance instructor, Jill Winternitz’s Baby is knowingly cute, while Paul Michael-Jones’s fop-haired and faintly sneering Johnny looks a bit Bullingdon Club. Their initial encounters have all the sensual tension of a course of intensive driving lessons.
But a great performance by Emilia Williams as attention-craving older sister Lisa keeps the entertainment levels up. And by the time Johnny bounds through the stalls to rescue Baby from her corner to the strains of ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’, there's just enough adrenaline in the auditorium to make a triumph of that famous lift.
By Bella Todd