Reviewed by Katy Hart
What a fantastic evening at the opening night of Dirty Dancing at the Bristol Hippodrome (3 July 2017). This stage production is based on the 1987 American romantic dance film which starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, and featured a multiple award-winning soundtrack. The on-stage version most definitely lived up to all expectations and more, I can understand why it has had sellout performances in Australia, North America and Europe.
It is set in the summer of 1963 at a holiday resort in the Catskill Mountains, a popular location at the time for the population of New York City. Frances “Baby” Houseman is on vacation with her family at the Kellerman’s Resort. Her father is the doctor and friend of the resorts owner. The family engage with the exercise and activities offered at the resort, and Baby one evening happens across the staff quarters of the resort where she is surprised to see that the dance staff hold secret after-hours parties in which they ‘dirty dance’. She receives a brief dance lesson from Johnny, the resorts dance instructor.
Penny, Johnny’s dance partner, is pregnant by a womanising waiter, who happens to be seeing Baby’s sister among other resort guests. Penny wants to have an illegal abortion from a visiting doctor and seeing her desperation, Baby borrows the money needed for the operation from her father (Jake) but she does not tell him why she needs it. The procedure is scheduled for a date when Johnny and she are supposed to be performing their weekly dance at another nearby resort, and if they miss the performance they forfeit their seasonal salary. It is decided that Baby will fill in for Penny, and Johnny and Baby have some intense albeit awkward dance lessons together. As Baby gradually begins to improve, so the attraction grows between the two characters.
The performance is successful and upon their return to the resort they find Penny in distress. The doctor who performed the procedure has left her severely damaged and in pain. Baby knows that Penny is in danger and brings her Father to help. He mistakenly assumes that Johnny is the father, and is very upset and angry with Baby for using his money to pay this rogue doctor, and for her involvement with Johnny. However, the attraction between Baby and Johnny is so strong that she cannot stay away and she visits him and spends the evening with him and is spotted leaving his quarters early the next morning by a jealous guest who has been wanting Johnny’s attention. She accuses Johnny of a theft from another guest and as Johnny is unable to provide an alibi without implying Baby, he faces being fired. Baby confesses that he could not have committed the crime as she spent the evening with him and thus adds to her father’s disappointment in her. Johnny is forced to leave the resort anyway.
At the end of the season show, Baby’s father bids farewell to the womanising waiter who by all appearances happens to be a well-educated and respectable young man, and gives him a recommendation letter for his further studies. He thanks Baby’s father for everything, including the way he looked after Penny after he had got her pregnant. Upon realising what has just been admitted to him, Jake snatches the recommendation letter back and rips it up. As all the staff and guests are singing the closing song of the season, Johnny returns and makes his entrance to perform the last dance of the season, however instead of his usual dance partner, he takes Baby by the hand and leads her onstage, after of course telling everyone that ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’. They dance a very provocative version of their dance at the local resort and this time it is a flawless performance including the iconic lift they had been rehearsing.
The whole cast were phenomenal however special mention must be made of both Billy Kostecki (Michael Kent) and Elizabeth (Sophia Mackay) for their incredible and versatile vocals. Music plays such an important role in this production – without it what would become of the dancing? Both Michael and Sophia totally captured the audience with their beautiful blend of voices.
The musicians were absolutely amazing too and it was so good to have the hits from the original film in the stage production as so often this isn’t the case. I loved seeing the musicians on the stage as live music for the dances and activities throughout the production – first class performances.
Throughout the production you were flawlessly transported around the resort, the cabins, the staff quarters, and the dance hall. The set was amazing and it really adds to the production when you can be so easily move between scenes. The attention to detail on the set can be so often overlooked, and yet when it is right, it can ‘make’ a show – the set design and build was outstanding.
Of course, I cannot fail to mention the outstanding performances by Johnny “Lewis Griffiths” and Baby “Katie Eccles” – totally mesmerising and thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation at the end of the evening. Lewis especially had the unenviable role of trying to follow in the role of Patrick Swayze – yet he nailed it, and he executed the role perfectly.
This was an absolutely fantastic evening and I would thoroughly recommend it. The production would probably not be suitable for young children because of the delicate issues that are dealt with. It was sensual, but with an audience filled with lots of excited women, there was an element of fun and laughing too. All of the iconic elements of the film were in the production and I cannot see how you could fail to love it. I’m very tempted to book tickets for later in the week and to watch it all over again, I loved it.
Tickets cost from £15.40 to £64.90 (plus £4 transaction fee).
Dirty Dancing is at the Bristol Hippodrome from 3-8 July 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/bristol or call the box office on 0844 871 3012.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, BS1 4UZ | 0844 871 3012