Everybody’s favourite skirt-twirling musical, Dirty Dancing, heads to Sunderland in September. Ahead of its Wearside run, Katy Wheeler previewed the show in Leeds.
THERE was a moment at the end of Dirty Dancing the musical where everyone, even the dads, were on their feet bopping away.
For when it comes to the infectious feel-good factor, this is a story which has it in droves.
Such is the popularity of the 1987 film, in which Baby meets a dancing dreamboat and becomes a woman, that it would be veering on the sacrilegious to tinker with it too much for a stage adaptation.
Fortunately for the Dirty Dancing faithful, the musical version is true to the film – and then some.
As cast member Nicky Griffiths explains: “Everything you expect and hope for in the film, you get in the stage show – all the iconic scenes are there. But there are also some scenes that were cut from the film, that have been added or scenes that have been written specifically for the musical which add atmosphere and tone to the piece.”
For the Sunderland run of the show, from September 18 to October 6, Nicky will step into the sparkly shoes of troubled dancer Penny Johnson.
“I’ve always been a fan of the film,” she said. “It’s a dream role to play Penny. Watching the film as a kid, a lot of girls want to be Baby, but I always wanted to be the dancer.
“Penny has such a wonderful journey. We meet her as this bubbly dance teacher and then over the course of the show you see how her relationship with Baby evolves and her friendship with Johnny.
“As an actress you find that you attach yourself to a character and find a place in you that means something to the character, so quite often the tears I cry as Penny are real tears.
“Penny has these great highs with incredible dance moves, coupled with emotional scenes and you don’t get that often as an actress.”
I spoke to the cast during their stint at The Grand Theatre and Opera House in Leeds where they are playing for nearly a month.
Unlike most shows, which usually play for up to a fortnight, such is the demand for Dirty Dancing that it has to stage long runs to quell its fans’ appetite.
“The audience reaction makes the show,” said Nicky. “Their response is so fun and naughty. I really enjoy performing to loud, exciting audiences. It’s great to get something back from them.”
One of the loudest, and most excitable, reactions during our visit to the theatre was for Paul-Michael Jones who plays hip-swivelling heart-throb Johnny Castle.
“The further north we go, the crazier the audiences get,” he said.
The role of Johnny is, of course, intrinsically linked to Patrick Swayze who made the dance teacher into an iconic silver screen character.
“I watched the film during the auditions,” explained Paul-Michael. “But not during rehearsals. I wanted to get the character right to get the job but once I had it, I wanted to make it my own.
“I try not to think about it too much. But when I first got the job it was scary as Patrick did such an amazing job.”
During the show, the cast of 35 work their way through a mammoth 55 songs as they bring to life a slice of 1960s America.
Paul-Michael said: “The show’s a killer and is really exhausting. The dancing is full-on and I’m throwing girls about all night long, but you get used to it. I was a Latin and ballroom dancer before this which is what the dancing in the show is. The first dance I ever did was the Mambo which is what Time of My Life is.”
The latter, in which Baby is lifted to dancing glory, is of course the film’s most iconic scene and it’s become Paul-Michael’s favourite to perform.
“When it all comes to an end, it’s crazy and physical, but the audience is so behind you,” he said.
If our experience of the show in Leeds is anything to go by, I defy the Mackem crowds not to be on their feet too.
l Dirty Dancing is at the Sunderland Empire from September 18-October 6. For tickets, call 0844 871 3022.
REVIEW: Dirty Dancing, The Grand, Leeds
CUE inevitable pun: so did I have the time of my life at Dirty Dancing?
Do you know what? I almost did.
Like many women of my generation I have a huge soft spot for the film and have seen it countless times, so I was a little trepidatious that the musical might not do it justice.
I was wrong. As the show’s stars had explained to me beforehand, they really do manage to include all the film’s scenes.
As such, it’s a fast-paced show stuffed to the brim with hits such as Hungry Eyes, She’s Like the Wind and Hey Baby, Do You Love Me coupled with the niftiest foot-work I’ve seen this year. The American accents are a little hammy, but the fast-footed spectacle in front of you soon makes you forget about that.
The cast didn’t appear to put a foot wrong as they whipped their way through a summer at Kellerman’s, especially Paul-Michael as Johnny.
I was almost out of breath watching him twirl his dance partners around the floor which elicited an excited response from the mostly-female audience.
They saved their most high-pitched screams for the finale which was a toe-tapping theatrical delight.