Review: Dirty Dancing, Leeds Grand Theatre, 31/05/2012
When? Thursday 31th May 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Emily Holt, Paul-Michael Jones, Charlotte Gooch, Thomas Aldridge, Colin Charles, Lynden Edwards, Joe Evans, Tony Stansfield, Shona Lindsay, Jack McKenzie, Emelia Williams, Aimie Atkinson, Gareth Bailey, Jacquie Biggs, Lizzi Franklin, Nicky Griffiths, Tim Hodges, Sarah Kitson, Helen Kurup, Fela Lufadeju, Liam Marcellino, Jonathan Ollivier, Adam Philpott, Kate-Emma Portlock, Russell Smith, Justin Thomas
It looks to be a year to remember at the Leeds Grand Theatre this year – and the summer season kicked off in style with the arrival of Dirty Dancing, Eleanor Bergman’s 2004 adaptation of the iconic movie, for which she also wrote the screenplay. The adaptation is entirely faithful to the movie, much to the delight of the primarily female audience, who watched in awe as Baby and Johnny brought the screen to the stage. That’s not to say Dirty Dancing is exclusively for fans of the film; there is much to savour here in the outstanding dancing, featuring wonderful choreography from Kate Champion, with Paul-Michael Jones particularly excelling in this field as Johnny. Jones has the unenviable task of emulating the late Patrick Swayze, whose performance is so synonymous with the film; I am delighted to say that Jones is an absolute success. Charlotte Gooch gives a top quality turn as Penny; she is entirely convincing with her acting but, more importantly perhaps in the context of the show, is an outstanding dancer and shines throughout. Emily Holt is Jennifer Grey incarnate in both appearance and mannerisms and is convincing enough in her portrayal of Francis “Baby” Houseman. I am truly impressed by the sensible and intelligent casting; the dancing from the company is superb and extremely tight throughout the performance, this is due to a high number of out-and-out trained dancers in the cast, who for the most part are not expected to sing. Naturally, a number of excellent vocalists are on hand to ensure the quality of the singing matches the excellence of the dancing. In avoiding the well-trodden triple-threat path, the production gains immensely in technical quality. Aimie Atkinson possesses a powerful, soulful voice and her singing is outstanding throughout.
The stage play visually mimics the film to great success, the simplistic sets (Stephen Brimson Lewis) feature clever use of blinds and shutters and, delightfully, incorporates a revolve which is used to great effect throughout. Video projections (Jon Driscoll) are used – thankfully sparingly and in an unobtrusive manner – much of the time as a simple visual backdrop to the static upstage set pieces. Some decent effects are incorporated in the second act to portray some of the most iconic scenes from the movie, including the water scene, and there are plenty of nods and homages to the film throughout, including some watermelons being carried across stage, to the audience’s delight. Jennifer Irwin’s costume designs help with establishing the period and feel suitably 60′s, with the movie as a helpful inspiration. Tim Mitchell’s lighting is very complimentary to both sets and actors and his best work comes when creating visual magic in combination with the projections.
Dirty Dancing tells a simple tale, it is right to say it is rather two-dimensional and glossy, which may turn off some of the more hardened theatregoers. However, this is also the case in the movie – and the stage show certainly stands up in its own right to critical scrutiny. This is thanks to the very high production values, superb dancing from the talented cast and the inclusion of all the iconic moments which made Dirty Dancing the phenomenon it remains today. The jubilant standing ovation in some quarters before the lights had even dropped are testament to how much the audience invested in the evening. It is worth noting that this is the final date for some of this superb cast, who I cannot rate highly enough.
- Harry Zing