Dirty Dancing at New Wimbledon Theatre
Following a global phenomenon like Dirty Dancing is a challenging feat. At New Wimbledon Theatre for the first leg of its 2018/19 UK tour, the stage adaptation of this classic story certainly lives up to its name.
The plot directly follows the film’s original script: it’s the summer of 1963 and Frances “Baby” Houseman (Kira Malou) visits an upscale family resort with her parents and sister Lisa (Lizzie Ottley). Between family-friendly games of “Simon Says” and rounds of golf with her dad, Baby finds herself drawn to the raunchy happenings down in the staff quarters. Here, she stumbles upon Johnny (Michael O’Reilly), an alluring but cynical dance teacher, and quickly finds herself enveloped in his world.
The show, in its entirety, is absolutely magnificent. Enigmatic dance numbers, an exceptionally well-designed set, sensual moments and even a break for audience participation makes this portrayal a night to remember.
It’s difficult to avoid comparisons to the original movie, which made Patrick Swayze a household name, but the cast match the characters of the film quite well. Malou’s portrayal of Baby is innocent and sweet from beginning to end, although it would be nice to see a tad more character development as she goes through a coming-of-age transformation. Nonetheless, the actress clearly has strong theatrical skills: she convinces as an inexperienced dancer, pulls a few laughs out of the audience and shines in the final number.
O’Reilly has tough shoes to fill as he makes his professional introduction as Johnny. While he fits the image of a cool, charming Swayze, his dialogue is a bit too edgy and over-emotional. He is certainly a dancer first and foremost, but he nails the character’s sensuality and is undoubtedly a favourite amongst the women in the crowd. Near the latter half of the production, however, he begins to find his stride. The final dance number reaches perfection as his face softens, and he nails the iconic “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” scene.
Simone Covele gives a gleaming performance as Penny. Her effortless dancing adds a high level of professionalism to every number in which she features. Her character manages to be heart-breaking at times, charming and seductive at others. In addition, the chemistry between Elizabeth (Sian Gentle-Green) and Billy (Alex Wheeler) is heartfelt and delightful, and both sing beautifully with flawless falsetto and a spot-on performance of The Time of My Life in the finale.
The set, designed by Robert Comotti, deserves special mention due to its stunning aesthetic and incomparable functionality. Morphing from an upscale summer resort to a lake in the middle of the woods in the blink of an eye, his flawlessly versatile stage is capable of carrying the weight of the show.
Taking place in the summer preceding Kennedy’s assassination, just as Martin Luther King Jr was beginning to inspire change across all classes, this portrayal of Dirty Dancing touches upon every topic featured in the film, from Penny’s back-alley abortion to the plight to end segregation. The musical is a definite must-see for fans of the original movie.
Photo: Alistair Muir
Dirty Dancing is at New Wimbledon Theatre from 19th November until 24th November 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.