Back in the West End following a record-breaking run in 2022, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage has clearly lost none of its appeal. In short: if you love the movie, you’ll love the show. The stage production is almost an exact replica, from script to costumes, music to – of course – dance routines. The show’s creative team know not to mess with a winning formula, so while the show contains a few added scenes designed to give context to those who want it, the core story of Johnny and Baby has wisely been left untouched, much to the appreciation of an enthusiastic audience.
It’s the summer of 1963, and Frances “Baby” Houseman (Kira Malou) arrives at Catskills holiday resort Kellerman’s with her parents and older sister. Before long, and much to the disapproval of her dad, she’s got involved with the “dance people” and fallen for instructor Johnny Castle (Michael O’Reilly). Will love conquer all? Of course it will – though naturally there are more than a few bumps on the way to the famous finale.
Like the movie, the show – also written by Eleanor Bergstein – is great fun, and more than a little bit cheesy, though not without straying into a few dark areas (there’s a whole side plot related to abortion, for instance), and even the most cynical of viewers would find it hard not to cheer as Johnny runs down the aisle to interrupt the Kellerman’s end-of-season talent show. Famous lines are greeted with wild cheers, as is any scene where Michael O’Reilly’s Johnny takes his shirt off, and the iconic lift is correctly rewarded with rapturous applause.
Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly reprise their starring roles from the 2022 West End cast, and are joined by several other returning cast members, including Charlotte Gooch as Penny, Lynden Edwards as Jake Houseman, Jackie Morrison as his wife Marge and Colin Charles as Tito Suarez, who’s a much more significant – and energetic – character here than in the movie. The cast also benefits from some fantastic new additions, notably Danny Colligan and Lydia Sterling, who provide show-stealing vocals on several of the musical numbers.
Visually, the show also looks great, Federico Bellone’s set and Valerio Tiberi’s lighting coming together to bring the ostensibly perfect world of Kellerman’s vibrantly to life. The show understands its limitations and leans into them – it’s not possible, for example, to have a lake on stage, but leaving out the famous lake scene was never an option, so a creative solution has been found which gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening (rivalled only by Georgina Castle’s magnificently terrible rendition of Lisa’s Hula).
Finally, a note about the dancing (choreography by Austin Wilks), which is unsurprisingly fantastic. If you were ever to wonder why it was necessary to put “the classic story on stage” when the original works perfectly well as it is – the dancing is why; on stage it has an energy and immediacy you can never get through a cinema or TV screen, not to mention an element of risk in “that lift”.
In summary, Dirty Dancing is the kind of show where you could pretty much ignore all of this review after the first two lines (please don’t, though). If you’re a fan of the movie, the show can do no wrong – it has all the fun, energy and romance of the original, and going in you know exactly what you’re going to get. Unlike Baby, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s a great night out and – yes, I’m going to say it – maybe even the time of your life.
Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is at the Dominion Theatre, currently booking until 29th April 2023.