I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of it, but Dirty Dancing is one of my all-time favourite films. Having watched it to death in my early teens, I only allow myself to dust off my DVD every few years now. But when I do allow myself to indulge in the guilty pleasure that is Dirty Dancing, love every second of it. Last month saw the return of Dirty Dancing to London’s West End at the Piccadilly Theatre, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first to see it.
As Ashley and I arrived at the Piccadilly Theatre, it was one of those perfect summer evenings when London’s theatre land was absolutely buzzing. After grabbing a bit of al-fresco cuisine at Maison Touareg Moroccan restaurant (which I can highly recommend for a pre-theatre bite to eat in the West End), we were both getting excited and giddy. Mostly at the prospect of hearing the iconic lines be delivered live in front of us and our in depth discussion of how we hoped the actor playing Jonny Castle would look.
We took to our seats and the curtain went up to reveal a very convincing Francis ‘Baby’ Houseman. Jill Winternitz was the actress in question, and her petite frame, 60’s perm, Native American accent and naturally pretty face made for fantastic casting. Within minutes, we were transported to summer of 1963 ‘when everybody called her Baby and it didn’t occur to her to mind’.
The opening dance number was an explosion of hip gyrating, lifts, perms, midriffs and pedal pushers and certainly set the scene of what was to come. Every single member of the ensemble had clearly been selected for being wonderful dancers – as you would expect. As the first few scenes played out (I am going to assume if you’re reading this you already know the story line!), tension in the audience rose as we waited for the dramatic entrance of Jonny Castle.
Just as in the film, Jonny’s entrance included a swinging saloon door, a cigarette, a pair of Ray Bans and a leather jacket over the shoulder. All the ingredients for an oh-so seductive entrance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help feel a pang of disappointment when. The actor playing Jonny Castle (Paul-Michael Jones) didn’t share the same bulging biceps, deep tan or devilishly handsome features as Patrick Swayze. I’ve got to hand it to him though, he was a great dancer.
But all was not lost. For me, the real star of the show was Charlotte Gooch, the stunning actress and dancer playing Jonny Castle’s pregnant dance partner Penny. You know when your watching a show and you’re gaze is totally distracted from the focal action as you’re too busy staring at one particular person on stage? Penny (Charlotte) was that person. I’ve seen a fair few musicals in my time and I can say she is – without a doubt – the best stage dancer I’ve ever seen. And why wouldn’t she be – she was playing the role of a gorgeous blonde bombshell of a dance teacher. Penny and Jonny’s partnered dance numbers were nothing short of sensational from start to finish and I watched them all with my jaw to the ground.
The stage production of Dirty Dancing is like watching a ‘live’ version of the film. It doesn’t veer away from the story line, and the script is almost word for word (and trust me – I should know). But despite playing it safe, the stage adaptation is done very, very well and delivers the classic lines perfectly. Would I recommend going to see Dirty Dancing? Yes. If you’re a fan of the classic film, you cannot fail to love every romantic, cringe-worthy and cheese-filled moment of the production. The Financial Times described the production of ‘A gorgeous feast of dance’, and they couldn’t have been more accurate.
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