Review: Dirty Dancing

By Émer O’Toole

Dirty Dancing, the 1987 coming-of-age film has found a new rhythm in a spin-off musical that came to Glasgow this month- accompanied by the infectious beat of the summer of 1963 and Johnny and Baby’s classic love story. From the opening lines “that was the summer we went to Kellerman’s”, the audience was hooked.

The hit stage show follows 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman who wishes to save the world, one starving Southeast Asian country at a time. While at a summer camp with her family, she falls for Johnny Castle, the resort’s resident dancer. When Baby decides to help out one of Johnny’s friends, she is forced to hide the budding romance from her father and the resort owner.

The story contains elements of class struggle and preconceived gender notions, as well as subtle nods to the generational divide and civil rights movements still to come. As Baby reveals in her opening monologue, the story occurs “before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps and I thought I’d never meet a guy as great as my dad.”

Roseanna Frascona is wonderful as Baby, not only because she displays an uncanny resemblance to Jennifer Grey, but because she achieves the right balance of innocence and stubbornness. Dirty Dancing made Patrick Swayze a star and his charisma is difficult to translate to the stage. However, Gareth Bailey brings a sensitivity to the role of Johnny Castle that the audience instantly falls for.

Fans of the film will be pleased that the stage version sticks relatively close to the original plot with the addition of a few added scenes to move the plot along. The water scene where the couple practice that famous lift, for instance, is done in an exaggerated fake way. Baby and Johnny stand behind a projected image of a lake but this works surprisingly well, injecting a bit of humour into the production.

Where this version of Dirty Dancing truly excels is the exquisite dancing that compliments the sing along hits this musical is so full of, including ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘She’s Like the Wind’ and ‘Do You Love Me.’ Johnny’s dance partner, Penny (Claire Rogers) makes the intricate choreography look effortless.

It is a feel-good ride from beginning to end, with the audience joining in and at times even shouting out lines. In the lead up to the unforgettable finale, Bailey runs through the stalls, much to the audience’s delight, to deliver his immortal line to his would-be father in law, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” This proves that the story of Dirty Dancing can work better on stage in front of a live audience.

It is unsurprising that the musical has been seen by more than six million people since opening in London in 2006. From the opening beats of ‘Be My Baby’ to the much anticipated finale with ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’- Dirty Dancing has the audience from start to finish.