Dirty Dancing at the New Wimbledon Theatre
Dirty Dancing, for many, was a rite of passage into adolescence – a glammed-up bildungsroman with a happy ending and lipgloss. With a rather obvious storyline of girl meets boy, the feeling of going through the motions of dull storytelling is allayed by the pure energy of the show.
Confidently directed by Federico Bellone, the production is an unabashed ode to slick feel good entertainment. The peerless cast reinvent their roles for stage while staying true to the film. In particular, Lewis Griffiths’ Johnny Castle, and Carlie Milner’s Penny Johnson are electric; the audience’s catcalling was only drowned out by the thunderous applause. Katie Hartland’s Baby is also commendable, managing to hold her own against her swaggering pirouetting co-stars through believable, dogged charm.
While very much a copy of the film, Dirty Dancing’s production values are so high throughout, it maintains a freshness you’d expect to be lost in a literal retelling. With brilliant costumes and lighting, and an impressive rotating set that makes ingenious use of the small stage space, each scene melds seamlessly into a breathlessly choreographed experience that leaves your heart pounding.
The ease in which we are swept into Baby’s world is a testament to the expert collaboration across all boards, particularly set designer Roberto Comotti and choreographer Gillian Bruce, who worked hard to make the scene changes look so effortless and fun. There’s also some very clever use of projection and physical theatre, injecting humour back into scenes that begin to get too heavy.
Juxtaposed against the slick and controlled feel of the musical were the incredibly polite Musicians’ Union protestors outside the theatre, drawing attention to the cuts to live music. With this production featuring a scaled back band, and alleged “unauthorised recording”, you do question the integrity of a production seemingly profiteering on a pre-existing fanbase with no new story.
Admittedly, a band playing along to a backing track is disappointing for any performance priced so highly, especially when ticket prices remain the same as before, despite less performers. Whether this is money grabbing from production, a sign of modernisation, or simply an unavoidable cutback, waits to be seen.
Overall, Dirty Dancing is everything you expect it to be, and that’s why it works. It isn’t an artful reinvention full of meaning and innovation – it’s a cash cow being milked dry – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a gloriously fun night out.
Dirty Dancing is at the New Wimbledon Theatre from 26th September until 1st October 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the theatre trailer for Dirty Dancing here: