As you walk into the audiotorium of the Piccadilly Theatre the bright pink words of “Dirty Dancing” are shone on stage; sitting in the corner is a record player and then the voice over begins: “It was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby and it didn’t occur to me to mind. It was before President Kennedy got shot, before The Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps and I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went
to Kellerman’s”. Then the audiotorium light up as soon as the live orchestra (that sounded sublime when they had a chance to perform) started playing the first beats of Be my Baby.
Dirty Dancing has an interesting set design that mixes traditional set elements with a revolving floor and a versatile L.E.D screen. The opening dance routine brings to life everything the film stood for – individuality, sexy and sensual choreography and heart. The costumes are beautiful and colourful and true to the period of the 1960s (I was slightly disappointed the gift shop didn’t sell a Kellerman’s t-shirt!)
Now you need to know that this production is not a musical in the traditional sense. Yes, music is played and a few songs sung, but for the main part, it’s accurate to the film, even including the famous dance training montage. But you don’t get Johnny Castle or Baby suddenly bursting into song like in other musicals – this is no Mamma Mia! It’s more about the experience of watching a film, live in front of you. Not on a small 19” TV or on a big multiplex cinema screen, but living breathing and able to touch – which is what theatre is about (although the latter part would get you thrown out of the auditorium, even though everyone in the audience wanted to touch Johnny!). It’s about watching your fantasy come to life in front of you – you want to be the one who carries the watermelon – you’re the one who cheers when the immortal line about corners and baby is uttered and you’re the one who swoons when Johnny and Baby end their story with a kiss!
Paul-Michael Jones is usually Johnny Castle but on the night I saw the production we had his understudy, a very tasty Gareth Bailey, who played the bad boy Johnny to perfection and wowed the audience alongside RADA trained Jill Winternitz as Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, who delivers a very strong performance that compliments Bailey’s Johnny perfectly.
The famous dance scenes was achieved with great skill and the dancing from both was beautiful to watch from the training scenes up to Time of your life and the famous lift.
Other cast members add great touches to the show with such stand out perfomances as Charlotte Gooch (Top Hat) as Penny in a nothing short of a perfect portrayal; elegant lines and precision in her dancing and emotionally in touch with her characters story arc and boy can that girl high kick! As Billy, Wayne Smith brings lots of joviality to the production, a warm and cheeky portrayal and boy does the show really take to new levels when he gets his chance to shine as a vocalist – gaining the biggest round of applause on the night for his rendition of In the Still of the Night. Emilia Williams makes her West End debut as Baby’s sister Lisa Houseman and adds a touch of humour “singing” Hula Hana.
It has a cast that’s full of energy to carry the performance from start to finish and if you’re a fan of the film you’ll leave feeling elated. I think even if you’re not such a massive fan you’ll leave thinking it wasn’t 2 hours of your life that you won’t get back, you will, as the song goes…have the time of your life!
For tickets see online or from the Box Office.
31 Great Windmill Street
London W1D 7LP