When one of the most iconic films of all time is adapted for stage, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons. After all, the takings at the box office will inevitably carry a direct link to the film’s loyal a fan base and this raises a question as to whether these types of productions should offer a lookalike, soundalike reminiscence of the original or strive to provide a new angle with some alternative characterisations. Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage does a bit of both, but in the first half at least, not especially satisfyingly and while it is destined to be a hit, it rides on the success of the original.
Lewis Griffiths does capture snippets of Johnny Castle, although in the main his attempts to personify Patrick Swayze’s legendary performance, fall a little flat. There’s little warmth, charisma or likeability and while he is a fantastic dancer (his athleticism is impressive), he’s too balletic to be convincing as Johnny Castle. His toned, tanned physique is a crowd pleaser and the direction makes the most of this, but rather than expressing the raw sexual energy of the original, it feels a little cheap. Indeed, it is that raw sexual energy that this show lacks. The dancing is beautiful, but far too perfect – especially in the “Dirty Dancing” scenes, there’s frustrating lack of heat, passion and abandon. Katie Eccles is strong as Baby. There is enough of a likeness to Jennifer Grey’s original to keep the die hard fans happy, yet she also offers an element of her own interpretation and plays the comedy well.
There’s a focus on the US political and cultural landscape of the early 1960s in this adaptation that could be interesting, but seems a little out of place alongside some intentionally and comically hammy scenes and characterisations (particularly Billy and Lisa). Many of the big numbers feel underplayed and rushed through, which given that the audience appears to be there to relive many favourite moments (the famous lines and moments all receive joyfully big reactions from the crowd), seems a shame. However the ability to create tricky settings -such as practising The Lift in a river – on stage is superb and there’s some wonderfully atmospheric and genius staging. The costumes too, receive full west-end musical treatment and are visually perfect for a large theatre, but equally true to the original.
The first act at times, is a tad tedious, but as it nears it’s end, things really pick up. There’s a lot less of a focus in this version on the importance of The Lift and so there’s less of a sense of a climactic build, but the collective anticipation of what is to come fills in the gap and the final scene goes down a storm. Giffith’s Johnny is at his best during the final section and the show delivers exactly what we want – a loud, sexy, true-to-original, theatricalisation of Dirty Dancing. An electric atmosphere has built by the time the curtain falls and we go home singing, dancing and re-living this much loved 80s classic.
Dirty Dancing runs at The Playhouse in Edinburgh until Saturday 17th June.