Review: Dirty Dancing at the Orchard Theatre

It’s a show that needs no introduction. Like the movie on which it’s based, Dirty Dancing the musical has been a runaway success ever since it first opened in Australia in 2004, and continues to thrill its devoted fan base to this day (this is a show that has no need to cast TV or pop stars to bring in the crowds). Now it’s back for a brand new 2016/17 tour, directed by Federico Bellone – and while return visitors may notice a few differences in the staging, the show itself retains a comforting familiarity that pretty much guarantees its ongoing success.

Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics
Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics

For die-hard fans, there’s really very little I can say by way of review, because the show lifts almost all its dialogue, music, dance moves and even some of the costumes directly from the movie – and as long as Baby gets to carry a watermelon, and nobody puts her in a corner, there’s not much for even the harshest critic to complain about. There are a few additional scenes that seem intended to provide a bit of depth, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the truth is nobody’s going to see Dirty Dancing to hear about freedom riding or how Baby’s parents got together; the show would have gone down just as well without any of the extra content. (Well, with the exception of Johnny flashing his bum, which I think it’s fair to say most members of the audience considered an essential and long overdue addition.)

The cast, led by Katie Hartland and Lewis Griffiths, do a great job of recreating their well-known characters in both look and personality. The dance numbers are genuinely sensational and a joy to watch, particularly those featuring Griffiths with Carlie Milner, who plays Penny. And there are strong vocals from Michael Kent and Daniela Pobega, although it does feel like the show could have given these two talented singers more opportunities to shine; most of the musical tracks are taken straight from the original soundtrack, with a full-length version of She’s Like The Wind the only noticeable absence.

Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics
Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics

Roberto Comotti’s rotating set reproduces every bit of Kellerman’s camp in all its wholesome glory (the effect marred only slightly by a distracting mechanical squeak that could often be heard even over the music), while a huge video screen is put to equally effective use for other scenes – the bit in the lake is particularly creative, drawing audible sounds of appreciation from the audience.

With Dirty Dancing, you get exactly what you’d expect: an entertaining story, familiar characters, a few steamy moments, and a string of fabulous music and dance numbers. It’s also a massive cheese fest, obviously, but the show makes no effort to gloss over that fact, choosing instead of revel in it and, if anything, take it up a notch. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think it’s fair to say this is a show that will have audiences singing, dancing, swooning, and having the time of their lives (sorry, I couldn’t help it) for many years to come.

Dirty Dancing is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 10th September.

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