Review – A down and dirty classic

2012-11-09 12:04

The sound of a door being thrust open and then slammed shut had everyone holding their breath and watching Johnny Castle as he strode to the Houseman’s table, black leather jacket slung over one shoulder.

He said: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

The whole Teatro erupted in applause and as the opening notes of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life struck up, the audience whooped as Baby and Johnny launched into their finale dance.

Dirty Dancing has come to the stage ... and it’s a carbon copy of the 1987 film.

This will delight fans of the original – me among them – who went week after week to see Patrick Swayze catch Jennifer Grey and spent weekends practising lifts in the swimming pool.

The water scene is done with digital screens rather than real water and it’s a bit of a comical moment as the pair pretend to shake the water off between lifts.

The digital element in this show, otherwise, gives it an almost cinematic feel, extending the feeling of watching a meticulous copy of the film.

The staging is clever – with minimal props, the creators have recreated every scene from the film.

The performances, though, are what make it worthwhile and the dancing is spectacular.

Gareth Bailey (Johnny Castle) is from the show’s London production, but otherwise this is a home-grown cast, and a talented lot they are.

Ballet-trained Bryony Whitfield, who understudied Meg Giry in Phantom of the Opera, takes centre stage as Baby.

She’s uncannily like Baby, and she and Bailey dance beautifully together. Mila de Biaggi takes the role of Penny Johnson and, like her filmic counterpart, dances magnificently.

The entire cast is polished and the live orchestra adds depth to the cast’s performances. Having the ensemble take turns to sing the production’s iconic songs – Love Man, Hungry Eyes, You Don’t Own Me and In The Still of the Night – ensures the music, drama and dance are integrated, and it doesn’t feel like karaoke.

The flaws in this production lie rather in the structure. Because the makers – which include the film’s writer, Eleanor Bergstein – are slaves to following the film’s sequences, the stage show is a little fragmented.

On film, skipping from scene to scene and back again is a doddle; on stage, it requires technical flick flacks and, though the technicians do them with style, the pace and flow suffer.

There are also cringeworthy moments when dramatic acting is required, but these are forgivable.

Dirty Dancing is a fun piece of nostalgia to enjoy at year-end – though a few of the husbands in the audience looked a little exasperated as they helped giddy wives to their feet as the lights came up.

Though set in 1963 America, the film was the soundtrack to many a young girl’s life back in the late 1980s and it was wonderful to feel 15 again, if only for an hour or two.

When Johnny made his first entrance on stage, we were all overcome with a bit of a hot flush. Either the aircon was out, or it was the heat of all those Hungry Eyes fixing on his snake hips and perfect abs.

» Dirty Dancing is on at Montecasino’s Teatro in Joburg until January 13. It moves to Cape Town’s Artscape theatre from January 18 to March 10. Book at Computicket.

» Follow me on Twitter @Gayle Mahala

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