Fans have been waiting for so long… for the current tour of Dirty Dancing, the musical stage adaptation of the cult classic film from 1987.
An influential piece of popular culture from the teenage years of anyone aged over thirty, it was clear on opening night that Brisbane’s musical theatre fans and movie fans had snapped up tickets to relive those memories. Flashes of watermelon pink and stiletto heels were filling the Lyric Theatre foyer and bar.
I saw the first production of Dirty Dancing when it came to Brisbane in 2005, and this new show has been updated and revamped. The first half skips along the narrative quite quickly, and I’m sure this is why some die-hard movie fans have complained that the show isn’t faithful to the original storyline. I think people unfamiliar with the film would struggle to keep up with what’s going on in Act 1. I believe some new scenes have also been added, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you which ones they were.
The soundtrack mimics the order from the film, and the opening bars of Hungry Eyes, She’s Like the Wind and the seminal Time of My Life brings shrieks from the audience before the number has even begun.
A fresh new cast have assembled,with a healthy mix of talented singers, actors and dancers. The dance ensemble are clearly trained in more than just jazz or ballet, with flexibility, agility and stamina on display throughout the show. The ensemble bring a lot of energy to the production, which noticeably lifts during musical numbers, but is a little stilted and flat during some moments of pure dialogue.
Leads Kurt Phelan and Kirby Burgess have clearly studied their cinematic characters closely, and for the most part do an admirable job to remain faithful to the original gestures, staging and even intonation in the delivery of their lines. Both performers are formidable dancers, showing physical prowess and strength throughout the show, including the iconic ‘lift’ in the finale. The vocal talent is also excellent, with main songsters Mark Vincent and Anna Freeland impressing the crowd with their gutsy renditions of 1960s classics and rock ballads made famous by the soundtrack.
Costumes are meticulously recreated from the film, right down to Baby’s signature perm. Major staging props and backdrops are also heavily based in the cinematic version.
The producers clearly understand that the crowds are here to see a faithful rendition of their much loved movie; but as is the case in many movie to stage adaptations, some things just don’t work ‘live’ they way they do on film (and indeed vice versa). The water rehearsal scene is a notable example – rather than try to recreate the steamy outdoor mood, the show opts to just accept that it won’t work and runs with a comical yet engaging sequence that keeps the essential plot points tracking, but loses the sexual tension felt in the film.
The first notable upgrade is the set. Sliding shutters frame the stage for most of the show, flying left, right, up and down to reveal feature action spots. They also mask the live band when it’s not performing (sadly, there is no pit orchestra, and some of the soundtrack is piped instead of played live). Video projectors are also used to set the scene (mostly outdoor locations within Kellerman’s Resort), and I have to say this digital staging is much better than the original production of a decade ago.
Musical theatre fans will love this high energy, feel good show, that’s full of emotion, swinging hips and more than a few tight tshirts. I highly recommend revisiting the film before going along (especially if you’ve never seen it before!) and to remember the story’s most valuable advice: have the time of your life.
Dirty Dancing’s 10th Anniversary Tour plays in Brisbane til July 19 at Lyric Theatre QPAC, then Perth from August 1; and onto Adelaide from October 2015.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television