What to expect from Dirty Dancing as the 80s movie returns on stage at the Sunderland Empire

The story of a 1960s holiday romance returned to Sunderland with glitz, glamour and plenty of dancing – but did I have the time of my life?

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 2:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th September 2021, 10:52 am

It was the smash-hit 80s chick flick of dancing, romance and sexual healing, as a geeky young woman falls in love with a rogue dance instructor at a vacation resort.

Michael O’Reilly captivated audiences last night with his modern betrayal of Johnny Castle, a classic character originally played by Patrick Swayze.

Swayze’s original performance saw him take on the unforgettable heartthrob who stole the heart of Frances “baby” Houseman, portrayed by Kira Malou.

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Michael O'Reilly (Johnny) Kira Malou (Baby) Carlie Milner (Penny); Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage; Photo credit Mark Senior

The role of Johnny Castle is very well cast with O’Reilly as the dreamy holiday camp dance instructor who teaches the awkward, middle-class Baby more than just dance steps.

And his cheeky bottom flash was definitely enjoyed by the mostly female audience – a little too much by some whistling and whooping women.

Kira Malou’s performance was charismatic, innocent and funny with her clownish mannerisms and exaggerated bad dancing – she captured Baby’s character flawlessly.

The chemistry on stage between the two is fierce during the second half and a hint of nostalgia mixed with modern, well-choreographed dance shimmies into a cocktail of performance that can be enjoyed by the old and young alike.

Kira Malou (Baby) Michael O'Reilly (Johnny); Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage; Photo credit Mark Senior

Paired with passionate choreography and a symphony of good vocalists, it created a very good remastered classic.

I enjoyed Lizzie Ottley’s portrayal of Lisa Houseman who kept the crowd laughing throughout and gave a charming yet comedic singing performance.

The voice of Samuel Bailey, who plays Billy Kostecki filled the room and reminded me why such a great cast was selected for a timeless blockbuster.

Austin Wilk's sensational choreography deserves plenty of credit as does Carlie Milner as Penny, whose very impressive dancing made me wonder why my leg cramps if I lift it that high.

Amber Sylvia Edwards (Elizabeth) Samuel Bailey (Billy) Kira Malou (Baby) Michael O'Reilly (Johnny); Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage; Photo credit Mark Senior

Not forgetting those iconic tracks we all know and love, from Hungry Eyes to Hey Baby, Do you Love Me and, of course, (I've Had) The Time Of My Life which were very well executed.

A love story of the classic kind, was all-singing and all-dancing but I can assure you that many karaoke-singing audience members who fancy themselves as the next Baby, unfortunately won’t make the cut.

The extra campfire scene added something different to the show which was beginning to feel like a very strict original-script performance.

A noteworthy addition was the underlying themes of class and racism which were well covered.

Michael O'Reilly (Johnny) Carlie Milner (Penny); Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage; Photo credit Mark Senior

The action is fast-paced throughout, although a little too fast paced for me – the performance felt choppy at times with a multitude of scenes crammed into a short performance.

However, I do appreciate the challenge for writer Eleanor Bergstein and director Federico Bellone in condensing down an almost two hour film to fit the stage.

Fantastic music played excellently by the band was an added bonus, of which I particularly enjoyed the trumpet.

The Sunderland audience definitely seemed to enjoyed the show also with a huge standing ovation.

Dirty Dancing runs at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, September 18.

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Dirty Dancing actors Kira Malou and Michael O'Rilly posed for photos at Stack this week

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