It usually pays to approach shows that have started out life as a film and subsequently shoehorned onto the stage with caution.
While the musicals of Rogers & Hammerstein, Sondheim and hipster composers like Schwartz (Wicked) are all musicals written specifically for performers to sing, dance and act on the stage, the port from celluloid to stage isn’t always a guaranteed success.
Certainly Legally Blonde – The Musical is a real triumph, with team responsible taking the storyline of the film and creating new songs, a new script and a whole load of trendy choreography to make it the smash-hit musical that it is today.
Unfortunately Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage, by Eleanor Bergstein, hasn’t benefited from the same treatment, even if it’s not explicitly cast as a musical. Essentially the production amounts to a play with dancing and some musical numbers awkwardly interspersed round the talky bits.
The majority of the songs are straight covers from the 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze, and it was rather weak that none of the main characters sang at all; vocal duties being left to a three-strong chorus who appeared from time to time at the side of the stage, while the actors went through their dance routines and lines. It made for a strange aesthetic that was hard to warm to.
Performances from the cast were not wholly convincing, but concerns over this were quashed by the beautiful dancing, particularly the routines by Johnny (Paul Michael-Jones) and Penny (Nicky Griffiths). The pair shared a genuine chemistry as they danced through their mambos and merengues – more so than that between the notional leads, Johnny and Baby (Jill Winternitz).
Winternitz compared unfavourably to Jennifer Grey from the film, partly due to the lack of character development in Baby throughout the musical; disappointing given that her journey is so pivotal in the film. Not even the denim shorts, that shed their inches as their wearer loses inhibitions in the film, appeared to change over the course of the performance. Tut! Baby tonight was an utterly beige wallflower.
The crowd at the Empire lapped up the show with open arms – and plenty of brassy wolf-whistles and scouse banter whenever Johnny started to get his swag on. It lent the show a certain pantomime aspect that may not have been to everyone’s taste.
Nor might the show delight those who love the film. But most seeking an undemanding night’s entertainment will find something to enjoy here – even if it doesn’t amount to the time of their life.
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage
Until 27 October