Dirty Dancing: It wasn’t the time of my life

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‘Dirty Dancing’ the stage show, it’s not a musical – but it has a lot of music in it, and it’s not a play, or a revue. It’s an odd presentation. Technically the best description of it is that it’s a re-enactment. A scene by scene recreation of a much loved film.

For those who haven’t seen the film, this theatrical presentation may have been confusing to watch. Many scenes were short, sometimes just featuring one or two lines, and the performances of some of the actors were clumsy and wooden, while others bucked the trend and delivered the goods.

It’s 1963 and the Houseman family head to Kellerman’s holiday resort. Here housewives are entertained with dance classes from suave instructors and handsome young waiters sometimes deliver more than what’s on the menu.

Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman wanders into the staff only area of the resort and discovers an exciting world of staff parties, where the dance staff display some erotic dance moves and she is drawn into the world behind the scenes and the lives of the staff. Here she meets and falls in love with dance instructor Johnny Castle.

One of the things that made the low budget movie, that was released in 1987, was its captivating soundtrack. It spawned two soundtrack albums and a live album.  A mix of classic tunes from the ’60s and new tunes created for the film.

In this presentation the music is delivered by a live band and singers who make up the company of the show, the lead actors don’t sing at all. The songs that made the movie are all here, ‘Do You Love Me’, ‘Love is Stange’, ‘Hungry Eyes’, and the show’s closer ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’. Surprisingly the popular ‘She’s Like the Wind’ is only played as a piece of backing music.

Lead actress Kirby Burgess delivers an impressive performance as Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, but lead actor Kurt Phelan struggles to shake off memories of Patrick Swayze from the film version. Maddie Peat, who came to prominence on the TV show ‘So You Think You Can Dance – Australia’ is captivating as ‘girl in trouble’ Penny Johnson and Tegan Wouters entertains as Baby’s younger sister Lisa.

dirty dancing_1Classical singing star Mark Vincent branches out into the world of theatre taking on the role of Billy Kostecki. While the singer gets to show off his powerful voice on the solo ‘In the Still of the Night’ – a moment where we do slip into a traditional musical presentation – there is no chance of Vincent being described as a “triple threat” anytime soon. Vincent’s acting and dancing abilities are questionable.

The dance scenes are spectacular, the dancers are tightly choreographed and these scenes provides the shows truly exciting moments, but they are too few and far between.

dirty dancing_7The most memorable moments of the movie are also included. There’s a lot of anticipation ahead of the classic line ‘I carried a watermelon”, and cheers from the crowd when Johnny Castle says “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” and the big lift in the final dance number is a feat of strength and balance from Burgess and Phelan.

Sadly the famous scene where the dancing couple balance on a log was presented with an overlay of video projection that destroyed the subtlety and suspense of the scene.

‘Dirty Dancing’, the classic story on stage is fun and full of entertaining moments, but there’s a fair amount of less captivating parts to wade through.

‘Dirty Dancing’ is at Crown Theatre until September 6th.


Graeme Watson




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