REVIEW: Dirty Dancing, Sunderland Empire, until February 14

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ONLY a fool would dare mess with Dirty Dancing.

Remember the hit film’s sequel? No, no one does. Because you can’t aim to emulate the success of this behemoth of a chick flick by tinkering with it, you just have to stick with the winning formula.

Dirty Dancing at the Sunderland Empire - Gareth Bailey who plays Johnny Castle and Roseanna Frascona who plays Baby

Dirty Dancing at the Sunderland Empire - Gareth Bailey who plays Johnny Castle and Roseanna Frascona who plays Baby

Producers of this musical have certainly taken a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the stage adaptation.

It’s all there: the swirling skirts, the watermelons, the corner, the ‘60s sounds, the iconic dance moves.

But this version is somewhat lacking in the sizzle of Swayze and chemistry of the two leads.

Roseanna Frascona is suitably bouncy and ebullient as ridiculously-named teenager Baby Houseman. Much like original Baby, Jennifer Grey, she’s got a girl-next-door charm and you can’t help but smile as she clumsily attempts to impress Johnny with her awkward moves.

And who wouldn’t want to impress him? Gareth Bailey certainly looks the part as the muscle-bound dance instructor and boy can he move. However, he wasn’t as engaging as other actors I’ve seen in the role. He was a bit too brooding, the Heathcliff of Johnny Castles.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the show. I had a thoroughly good time saying the lines under my breath, tapping my feet in time to the infectious tunes and seeing some of the most familiar characters in film come to life.

The set was drenched in colour and clever use of graphics sees the action move from the forest to the lake and back to Kellerman’s.

Signature dance moves were executed with fast-footed aplomb, especially by Claire Rogers as Penny Johnson. Her moves were mesmerising as her endless legs slinked about the stage.

And the moment everyone had been waiting for - the closing ‘corner’ scene - didn’t disappoint.

Cheers rang out around the Empire as Johnny leaps on stage to give Baby the time of her life. She swoons and so did we. This show may not have the dazzle of the original Dirty Dancing, but it certainly has the feelgood factor.