Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage
John Frost, Karl Sydow, Martin McCallum & Joye Entertainment
in association with Lionsgate & Magic Hour Productions
QPAC Lyric Theatre
May 28 – July 19 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
If you haven’t heard anything around the traps like, “WELL THE LAST TIME I SAW DIRTY DANCING…” or “I THINK I PREFERRED THE ORIGINAL BECAUSE…” you’ll love this production. It’s the scaled back touring version but look; all over the world there are people who haven’t eaten today. So how much you gonna’ complain? We’ve been seeing more and more mega musical theatre and dance productions stop by Brisbane (this one’s unashamedly a dance production), largely due to the concerted efforts of John Frost and those who would follow in his footsteps, and this is certainly not the worst of them, although it could be much, much better.
It’s literally “the classic story on stage”, the famous movie brought to life, and people LOVE IT!
I enjoyed this Dirty Dancing, I really did, it’s lots of fun, but there are some things that miss the mark. Firstly, there is the obvious casting issue of Kurt Phelan as Johnny Castle, the sexy Kellerman’s dance instructor. Phelan’s a terrific dancer and he’s got a cool Kenickie style swagger, but Patrick Swayze he is not. Every other character has been created in the likeness of their movie counterpart and for the best effect, this approach should be consistent.
Kirby Burgess, the shining light of this show, presents a beautifully measured genuinely naïve Baby-who-becomes-a-woman; she’s possibly been asked to channel Jennifer Grey on stage (whilst retaining her own vibe, the mark of a natural performer), whereas Phelan must have been advised to forget Swayze’s portrayal and make the role his own. This he does and it only vaguely works, despite his prowess as a dancer. There’s nowhere near the same level of charisma, nor the depth of emotion in his interactions with Baby. BUT I CAN SEE THE YOUNGER PUNTERS ADORE HIM.
Some of the best moments from these two? The steamy end of Act 1 is as sexy as this show gets AND IT’S HOT – you’ll def want another daiquiri during Interval – and this is where we finally see a connection between our two leads. ABOUT TIME. We LOVE Baby’s secret solo dance practice in the Wipeout montage (even Rocky had a montage), and the gorgeous Love Is Strange “lover boy” scene in which the pitiful son of the owner of Kellermans, Neil (Gabriel Brown, either too young for the role or he’s playing it too young), interrupts Baby and Johnny in the studio. Burgess steals the scene with her parody of the parody of Johnny’s teaching style.
Secondly, the pace is super fast and sometimes the short scenes are so slickly delivered and abruptly finished that I feel we’re being cheated. Yes! Cheated! I want everybody to SLOW DOWN and indulge in some of the major moments, so that we can indulge in those moments – there are so many wonderful moments – and relive our delight and surprise of seeing the film for the first (or seven hundredth time)! It’s like watching the movie trailer but not the movie, and I feel there should be more…everything; more songs, more scenes, and more detail in order to fully develop the story because the story, as it’s told on stage, is lacking. Apparently, there is 40% more new material! But I want smooth transitions too.
And I’ll tell you something else. You’ll laugh out loud. Because I hadn’t read the reviews from Sydney and Melbourne (ain’t nobody got time for that!), I DIDN’T REALISE IT WASN’T A MUSICAL. I KNOW. I’M AN IDIOT. OF COURSE IT’S A DANCE SHOW. DIRTY DANCING. RIGHT? RIGHT.
I was genuinely surprised when none of the leading characters broke into song!
I know my sharp intake of breath was heard (because I got a raised eyebrow from a woman nearby like, “I KNOW, RIGHT?!”) when Johnny didn’t even start singing She’s Like the Wind, the track Swayze wrote and recorded for the soundtrack of Grandview, USA (when it wasn’t used for Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Swayze pitched it to the Dirty Dancing team). WHAT THE? I’m truly disappointed that the show’s creators thought this unnecessary.
GUYS. LISTEN. WRITE THE SCENES. WRITE THE ADDITIONAL SONGS. LET THE LEADS SING THE SONGS. IT’S NECESSARY.
I love Mark Vincent as Billy, who gets to sing a bit and does so beautifully. In the Still of the Night is a highlight and it’s a shame that a number of little moments involving him are glossed over because as a “non-actor” (I don’t know why we say that about singers, or let them say it about themselves. I take it back!), he brings a natural warmth to the stage, and we need more of it. I enjoy Eric Rasmussen’s musical numbers and you know I LOVE seeing the band on stage, and in this case I’m thinking that with such a slick outfit available it’s even more ridiculous to deny the other artists the vocal lines in the songs.
BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT I THINK. THE SHOW WILL SELL OUT.
It’s clear on opening night that the audience is comprised of many serious fans that know the film inside out and back to front. They pre-empt each iconic scene and all the classic lines.
My German homestay student, Nici, is one of the more obsessive ones. She joined us in January to attend one of the local high schools. The first film we all watched together at home was Dirty Dancing. SHE LOVES THE MOVIE AND LOVES THIS PRODUCTION. SO I BOUGHT HER THE SHIRT AND PROBS SHOULD HAVE ASKED HER TO WRITE THE REVIEW.
While I was at another opening night on the company’s night off this week she messaged me to let me know
BABY IS IN THE HOUSE!
The ensemble is excellent and full of energy. There doesn’t appear to be many of them on stage but they clearly relish their roles and given any opportunity to do so, dance up a storm. Adam Murphy is a stand out as Baby’s daddy, Dr Jake Houseman, because JUST LIKE THE MOVIE ONLY YOUNGER. AND MORE SUAVE, IN THAT OLD FASHIONED MISOGYNISTIC MUST-CHANGE-FOR-THE-SAKE-OF-MY-WIFE-AND-DAUGHTERS SORTA’ WAY. Chris Ostrenski is a suitably shallow, callous, gorgeous Robbie and Teagan Wouters OWNS the role of Baby’s sister, Lisa, although you’ll have to decide to love or loathe her carefully produced speaking voice. Maddie Peat is not my ideal Penny but I had expected any Penny to gradually let us get closer and closer as she breaks and begins to heal again, and not just high-kick her way through the show. Penny’s got a hell of an arc; hers is the toughest sub-plot to pull off and I just wasn’t convinced. BUT LEGS! YES! SHE’S GOT ’EM!
Now here’s a weird one. While most of the design elements work surprisingly well, the iconic let’s-get-outta-here field and lake scenes projected across a scrim really DON’T (are they supposed to? Really? Is it a joke?), AND there is a strange amused/bemused ripple of laughter as the splash of the sound effects are added. I think it feels, by this stage of the show, that we’ve accepted the questionable creative choices, shrugged them off and decided WHAT OF IT. IT’S STILL GOOD. This comes after a LOT of cheesy mime, which is well executed but IT’S WEIRD. WHERE’S THE CAR?
When it comes to the final scene and THE LIFT the crowd goes crazy and I decide WHATEVS. GET THOSE BUMS ON SEATS. What a great show to see and for its duration, not have a care in the world. How lucky are we?
There’s not a lot of deeper meaning here. Every opportunity to bring us the story we love in a new light is missed. (I’m not sure why we get a racial tolerance lesson towards the end either; we know when and within what context the story takes place, but perhaps it’s just as well, considering the timing of ABSINTHE opening across the bridge in King George Square, currently enjoying a similarly deliriously happy customer base despite its appalling spoken content… We shall overcome? Shall we? Really? Does anyone tell the truth anymore about what they’re seeing?
Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage seems to be a simple case of GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT WE TELL THEM THEY WANT. And clearly, what we want is a frozen watermelon & rum daiquiri (it was delicious), a glittery merch shirt (I wore it to school yesterday), and an energetic, shiny show overflowing with nostalgic nods to its source material, reaffirming where we are as a nation in terms of popular entertainment. And where are we?
STUCK ON REPLAY, HAVING THE TIME OF OUR LIVES. AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. IS THERE?