Wearsiders got the chance to step into Baby’s dance shoes as part of a Dirty Dancing masterclass. Katy Wheeler went along to find out whether they had the time of their lives.
NOT content with becoming a behemoth of a cult silver screen classic, Dirty Dancing has since taken the stage by storm.
As well as being one of Sunderland Empire’s most popular shows, the musical has been a hit all around the world, from New Zealand to the Netherlands, breaking box office records in its wake.
Ahead of its return to the city next month, choreographers and the producers of the show staged a masterclass so Mackems could learn the story’s iconic moves.
Those invited to the session at Sassy Girl Fitness, in Church Street North, Roker, were the theatre’s group bookers, local dance schools, university dance students and The Movers, a dance group for retired ladies.
For grandma-of-four Mildred Flett, 81, from Lakeside Village, this was her first time Dirty Dancing.
“I’ve done ballroom and linedancing for keep fit and have danced for years, but this is the first time I’ve tried anything like this, it was brilliant,” she said.
“We’ve learnt a lot of contemporary moves, it really loosens you up! I’ve seen the film, but I’m really looking forward to the musical now.”
Glenn Wilkinson, UK associate choreographer, said Sunderland did a good job of recreating the cha cha cha.
“We came up with idea as a collective,” he said. “We used to do sit-down displays for people then we came up with this other idea of a masterclass and it really seems to have clicked with people.It gives them an insight behind the scenes.”
Speaking about recreating the film’s dance moves, which are so beloved, on stage, he said: “As a choreographer it’s an amazing opportunity to be entrusted with dancing for the show. It’s about creating sharper moves, without losing that sense of Dirty Dancing, keeping that grinding, mysterious sense.
“In the movie the cameras move in and out of the dancing, we can’t do that, you see the dancing all the time, so we have to come up with different ideas. In the movie you are shown what to see, but in a musical you watch what you want to watch, so you feel more involved in the musical.”
Glenn is involved with casting for the show which requires actors who can move with passion and skill.
“In casting, the first thing we do is simply ask people to let go, we can’t have anyone who’s uptight or precious,” he said. “There’s also the physical side, who can pick their partner up eight times a week. It’s more technical than strength. Physically, you could be huge, but it’s more about being like an elite athlete.” The musical is produced by Karl Sydow and Joye Entertainment in association with Lionsgate and Magic Hour Productions, and written by Eleanor Bergstein, script writer of the phenomenally successful 1987 film.
Instead of tinkering with the story, the production features all the much-loved characters and original dialogue from the iconic film with extra scenes added in.
The choreography comes alive on stage, set to all the classic hits including Do You Love Me?, Hungry Eyes and the Academy Award-winning I’ve Had The Time Of My Life.
Speaking about the early days of the musical, which opened in the West End in 2006, producer Karl said: “It was a huge challenge, the film has 118 separate scenes, but in theatre we can’t use things like close ups and jump cuts, but we have to find a way to recreate everything from the film on the stage.
“You have to get a field, a lake, a log, on stage with the music and story that people love, you have to ensure that story is there. The stage show has been phenomenally successful, we have to give people the time of their lives.” The show has gone on to be one of the most popular productions in theatre.
“It’s still the fastest advance sales ever in the West End – £15million – no one’s got close to that,” Karl added.
“When I first started producing this, no one wanted to give it a chance. It’s men that own theatres, and they didn’t understand why people would want to see it in the theatre when they could just watch it on film.
“But fans want to be in the room when Baby falls in love. It’s such a universal story, it begins with the most important person in her life being her dad, which then becomes Johnny. She grows from a girl to a woman over the course of the story.
“Then there’s Penny’s story, a woman treated badly by a man, something many women can relate to.”
The success of Dirty Dancing has led to a surge in films being adapted for the stage including The Bodyguard and Ghost.
“It played for five years at the Aldwych and was one of the longest running shows at the theatre. As a result, producers began looking at other films that have been successful,” said Karl.
Bringing to life the roles of Johnny, Baby and Penny will be Gareth Bailey, Roseanna Frascona and Claire Rogers.
•Dirty Dancing is at Sunderland Empire from January 27 – February 14. Tickets are available in person at the Box Office or from calling 0844 871 3022 or booking online at www.ATGtickets.com.