Hey! Baby, Dirty Dancing musical is a film-lover's delight

Gazette Series: Lewis Kirk as Johnny and Claire Rogers as Penny in Dirty Dancing Lewis Kirk as Johnny and Claire Rogers as Penny in Dirty Dancing

THIS is a show that needs no introduction. If you have even thought about going to see it, you will no doubt be familiar with the story of Baby Frances Houseman and her family’s vacation to Kellerman’s in the summer of 1963.

And it isn’t a musical people go to for a meaningful experience or an insight into the world of the American civil rights movement, although the production does touch on that far more than the film. Dirty Dancing is, just like the film, fun, full of some of the most infamous dance routines of all time and primarily one for the girls.

So it is no wonder Wednesday night’s audience at the Hippodrome was largely female, with girls, mums and grandmothers excitedly cheering and wolf whistling at the iconic moments from the film recreated on stage with impeccable authenticity.

On this second visit to Bristol, Lewis Kirk takes up the formidable role of Johnny. Stepping into shoes filled so unforgettably by the late, great Patrick Swayze must be a daunting task for any dancer/actor but Kirk puts in a sterling effort. Clearly a strong partner, he exudes the same air of confidence, even arrogance, Swayze did in the film yet still manages to show his softer side in his bedroom scenes with Baby.

Roseanna Frascona looks every inch the part of the young, naive Baby, played by Jennifer Grey in the film, who wants to change the world. Of an even deeper political persuasion than her film character, Frascona uses gawky teenage body language while at the same revealing her inner, grown-up passions.

Claire Rogers is breathtaking as Kellerman’s Queen of dance Penny and Colin Charles as Tito, Johnny’s dance mentor, is an authoritative figure in black American’s struggle against apartheid. The show adds a new scene around a campfire to explore the divisions between middle class families who holiday at Kellerman’s, its ill-treated dance staff and black workers.

Mark Faith as wallet-stealing Mr Schumacher adds a good dose of comedy to the role and Alexander Wolfe as privileged Neil Kellerman is equally amusing with trousers pulled so high even Simon Cowell would be proud.

The set is visually very effective, utilising a huge screen as a backdrop to the lift practising scenes in a field and, much to the amusement of the audience, in water and a revolving stage provides a sense of movement from one location to the next.

Of course, no dirty dancing would be possible without the memorable soundtrack featuring Be My Baby, Do you Love Me, Hungry Eyes and Hey! Baby played in part by a live band on stage. Several dancers do also sing, most notably I’ve Had the Time of My Life during THAT routine at the end.

Dirty Dancing is largely a replica of the 1987 film and just occasionally is so busy fitting in all the dialogue, with the exact same intonation Swayze and Grey gave in the movie, that as a stage show it fails to have the impact you would expect from a musical. But this is not just any musical and the audience doesn’t seem to care that the lead actors don’t sing any numbers. Fans just want to see their favourite film re-enacted right in front of them.

It is not a musical masterpiece by any means but not a soul was bothered about that as a leather jacket-clad Johnny marched up through the central aisle at the end to declare ‘nobody puts baby in the corner’. This is a show for fans of the film.

Dirty Dancing is on at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, April 5.

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