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Dirty Dancing the Musical - Review

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by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Mother. Find out more at shannonmeyerkort.com/ or join me at fundraisingmums.com.au
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Should this Baby have been left in the corner?
Seeing one of your favourite movies made into a musical can be a stressful thing. There needs to be a balance between being true to the original story and characters, making sure all the classic moments are spot-on and having the audience walk out feeling just as in love with the story as ever. Then you also need to weigh the fact that you can usually watch your favourite movie for free in the comfort of your own home, so to convince people to spend a lot of money to see it on the stage, it needs to be pretty special.

Dirty Dancing the Musical
Dirty Dancing is reinvented onstage. image courtesy website


Dirty Dancing, released in 1987 and starring Patrick Swayze as Johnny and Jennifer Grey as Baby is the quintessential teen angst movie. With a ripper soundtrack, some eye popping dance scenes and a classic rich-girl-poor-boy love story, it has a special place in many a woman's heart.

Dirty Dancing 'the Classic Story on Stage' was originally performed in 2004 and since then has broken a number of records (but notice they don't actually refer to it as a Musical). The movie's writer Eleanor Bergstein, realised that audiences wanted an even more physical involvement in the story, and so she rewrote it for the stage.

Opening for its 10th Anniversary in Sydney in late 2014 and now heading to Perth for a limited season from August 2nd, Dirty Dancing will be on many people's must-see list in 2015.

But if you desperately love the movie, should you see the stage show?

Dirty Dancing Musical
Is it as good as the movie? image courtesy website


To start with, there are a lot of new scenes and songs. Some are brief, one or two lines, like a skit, designed to add levity or to segue into a new scene. However, there is also a whole extra story line that has been added to the plot. At best it is unnecessary, and at worst, plain annoying.

By going deeper into the ideas of the Freedom Fighters, Martin Luther King's I had a Dream speech, votes for blacks and social inequity, the producers of Dirty Dancing seem to want to add a layer of gravitas and complexity to their love story, as well as obviously stretching for time. Suddenly we are listening to Kellerman families sing 'We Shall Overcome' around a camp fire. I glanced around the audience: most had a 'what the?' expression on their face. It wasn't entirely convincing, and I felt, completely unnecessary.

But the good news is that all the classic lines, characters, moments and songs are present in the stage show. Sometimes the way the actors move are so perfect, it's not newcomers Kurt Phelan and Kirby Burgess onstage, but Patrick and Jennifer. The casting is spot on, in particular Adam Murphy who plays Baby's father Jake, and Nadia Coote who plays pregnant dancer Penny. She was spectacular.

The other thing is that this isn't a traditional musical. Most of the actors are dancers, not singers, and very few of the characters actually sing. All the favourite Dirty Dancing songs are there, but sometimes only a few loud bars of introduction before being shushed so the actors can speak their lines (in a strange Aussie/American hybrid accent).

The songs that are sung by character Billy Kostecki, played by Australia's Got Talent winner Mark Vincent, are exceptional. His role has been beefed up for the show, and by singing some amazing duets with invented character Elizabeth, (such as Time of My Life), audiences get the best of both worlds, being able to watch the amazing dancing, and listening to his incredible voice.

The audience in Sydney on the night I watched the show could well have been extended family of some of the actors, such was the exuberance of their involvement: catcalling, cheering, clapping and whooping made the show even more exciting, so much so that a slightly awkward hush settled on the audience during 'that' famous sex scene: we felt like we were watching a real couple, since we all knew what came next...

Dirty Dancing Musical
She carried a watermelon! image courtesy website


Even though no one can really ever replace Jennifer and Patrick, by the end of the show, the actors have made a real impact. The role of Baby has been made quite humorous, thanks to some physical humour and great timing by Kirby Burgess.

Limitations in what is physically possible in a theatre also meant that the producers had to be creative in essential scenes such as teaching Baby to balance on the log, and practicing lifts in the water. Viewed through a screen meant to look like water, the actors practice their lifts, and the non-special effect (which initially seems like a cheap let down) is quickly forgiven by the hilarious way the characters pretend to shake their 'wet' hair each time they surface.

The quality of the production is excellent, the actors/dancers top notch and the music perfectly balanced. Unlike Baby on the log.

It's not the movie though, and despite the pitch perfect copy - at times - it acknowledges what it is, and its limitations. Still, Dirty Dancing the Musical is a toe-tapping and extremely fun night out. Just make sure you have a copy of the movie ready to go when you get home. Because you will want to watch it again. And again.

Tickets for Perth shows will be available from early 2015, but you can go on the waitlist now to make sure you don't miss out.

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Why? Because it's one of our favourite 1980s love stories.
When: Season opens August 2nd, tickets available from early 2015
Where: Crown Theatre, Burswood
Cost: Approx. $60-$140
Your Comment
Great review, sounds like an interesting remake. Maybe we'll keep the wallets in our pockets for this one.
by Laura Turner (score: 2|479) 1445 days ago
This review is fair, I saw the show last night and left feeling disappointed. Although it was scripted pretty much word for word and the dancing scenes stand up to the movies dancing move for move, I found it at some points corny. On leaving I wasn't sure wether the writers had dilberatly turned it into a comedy as the crowd laughed out loud a few times during the show. I found The actor who played Jonny to be quite robotic in his deliverance along with some of the other actors. Both actresses who played Penny and Baby were exceptional. The girl who plays Lisa, Baby's sister was on par but maybe tried a little to hard. What probably annoyed me the most was the geeky voice put on by the actor who plays Mr kellermans nephew. Sorry to say But I was expecting better acting. In writing this comment though I should say that we left the theatre I did hear a lady say how great it was and how much she enjoyed it.
by shann (score: 0|2) 1219 days ago
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