Time of her life

Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing
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Next week the theatre version of cult classic film Dirty Dancing will hit the stage in Sunderland for the first time. Katy Wheeler speaks to actress Jill Winternitz who’ll be carrying watermelons in the iconic role of Baby.

SHE may have been one of the few women of her generation not to have seen Dirty Dancing when she was asked to audition for the role of Baby Houseman.

However, Jill Winternitz is now a fully fledged Dirty Dancer, tapping her toes and twirling her skirt every night in the energetic stage show adaptation of the 1987 blockbuster.

It whisks audiences back to 60’s America to a summer which would change the heroine’s life forever.

Jill explains how she became part of the spectacular.

“The role came about for me in the traditional way,” she explained.

“My agent rang me about auditioning for the show. It’s special because it’s my first big musical.

“It was a huge audition process with lots of singing and acting.

“I think I was lucky to not know the story as Baby is such an iconic role but, because I wasn’t familiar with her, I didn’t put pressure on myself.

“I approached her as I would any other character and looked at it like a new piece of writing. I wasn’t afraid. I have of course seen the film since.”

This run will be the show’s North East debut.

It’s a faithful depiction of the much-loved film, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, with a few extra scenes added to delve deeper into the story of the stars’ holiday romance.

It features hits including Hungry Eyes, Hey Baby, Do You Love Me? and I’ve Had The Time of My Life.

Speaking about why the story has struck a chord with millions around the globe, Jill said: “It sounds cheesy, but it really is a coming of age story.

“She arrives at Kellerman’s young and naive and leaves with a whole new perspective. She meets Johnny and has this amazing, sensuous experience which changes her.

“The stage show appeals to people because they love the film, but the show gives them the chance to see it in a more visceral way. It’s more of an embodied, full-on experience, you are there in Kellerman’s.

“It’s such a feel-good show. It’s one of the reasons I love being part of it – it’s impossible not to have a good time.

“No matter what mood I’m in when I arrive at the theatre that night, I leave buzzing.”

With so many toe-tapping numbers, the show is an energetic, high-octane tour-de-force for Jill and her co-stars, Paul-Michael Jones as Johnny Castle and Nicky Griffiths as Penny Johnson.

Jill said: “When I started the role I was sleeping for 10 hours a night because I was so tired, but my body is starting to adjust now.

“It’s a very physically-demanding role, but that’s why I took up acting, because I like challenges.”

Jill hails from Northern California so is enjoying being out on the road for the tour, visiting new towns and cities.

“I’m particularly looking forward to Sunderland,” she said. “I know this is controversial, but my boyfriend is a huge Newcastle fan so we are going to try and see a match. I promise not to mention Newcastle on stage though.”

l Dirty Dancing is at the Sunderland Empire from Tuesday, September 18 to Saturday, October 6 with tickets priced £10-£48.50. Tel. 0844 871 3022.