"Nobody puts Baby in the corner" and "I carried a watermelon" are probably two of the most iconic phrases in the history of film, and are ones that were welcomed with a rapturous response at the press night of Dirty Dancing at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night.
The vast majority of people have seen the 1987 film starring the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey and it has a real cult following. Because of this, last night saw yet another show bringing in a largely non-theatre audience into the Hippodrome; something which I feel is incredibly important in today's culture and I highly commend the show's producers for assisting with this. I was fairly recently told by a professional in the entertainment industry that "theatre is for old people" - a statement which really riled me. I would have said that the dominant demographic last night were under 25s which immediately proves this statement to be incorrect.
Having seen the West End production a couple of years ago, I was very intrigued to see what changes had been made for the UK tour. I would definitely say it has undergone vast improvements and visually it looked stunning; mainly credit to Stephen Brimson Lewis (Set Designer), Jon Driscoll (Video and Projection Design) and Tim Mitchell (Lighting Designer). It is very apparent that this production is an extremely collaborative piece of theatre and all creatives have excelled in pulling together to achieve this.
The production is very fast paced and I do believe that it has been directed (very well by Sarah Tipple) with the assumption that everyone has seen the film. In the unlikely event that an audience member hasn't seen it, I believe it would be slightly too rapid to keep up. This said, the transitions between scenes and locations were very slick and effective, massively aided by the wonderful video design.
Naturally the star of the show within this production needs to be the choreography and it certainly delivers on this count. Kate Champion, with input from Craig Wilson, has been able to incorporate a cross section of dance styles with original routines plus rejuvenating choreography directly from the film, such as during 'The Time Of My Life'. The musical soundtrack itself is incredibly well known and matched with the dancing, it works hand in hand. Having the musicians onstage added an extra dimension and under the direction of Tom Deering sounded fantastic. The production's sound team certainly have a busy time throughout the two and a half hour show and I was very impressed with how that was accomplished.
The company gave a very good performance overall. Considering there was a cast overhaul ready for the production opening in Birmingham, the chemistry between them was very believable. Supported by an energetic ensemble, Jill Winternitz gives a very endearing performance as Baby. She plays the slightly awkward and vulnerable side of the character incredibly well and overall was competent in the role, although there were occasions when I felt the attention shifted during scenes she shared with Nicky Griffiths playing Penny. Griffiths is clearly a phenomenal dancer but I did feel that having this larger role for the first time in her professional career has meant that she is overdoing it a little. It didn't feel entirely natural but I'm sure she will settle into the role in time. Someone who has been cast perfectly is Paul-Michael Jones who plays Johnny. I believe one word sums him up and that is delicious...in every way! Everything you want from that character, he delivers. Also a special mention for Stefan Menaul playing Neil; wonderful in a comedic role.
Although some of the acting left a lot to be desired, Dirty Dancing doesn't need to have the best of everything to succeed. All of the elements that people want to see are in the production and judging by the reaction of the Hippodrome audience last night, everybody loved it. Admittedly it is not likely to set the theatre world alight but it is sexy, fun and overall a great night out.
Catch Dirty Dancing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 25th August.