Dirty Dancing – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Kirsty Reid, August 2019
The 1987 film Dirty Dancing captured hearts with its against all-odds romance, incredible dancing and undeniable chemistry between its stars Jennifer Grey (Frances “Baby” Houseman) and Patrick Swayze (Johnny Castle).
It may not be the most captivating love story ever told, but the much-loved classic was fun and flirtatious.
Set in the summer of 1963 and tackling issues of class and abortion, Dirty Dancing tells the tale of a naïve teenager (Baby) who falls in love with a handsome dance teacher (Johnny) while on holiday with family.
For a remake of the story to work, you need two stars with enough chemistry and flirtation for the audience to believe their romance. Sadly, that isn’t the case with the latest stage version of Eleanor Bergstein’s tale.
Michael O’Reilly and Katie Eccles have the difficult task of stepping into the dance shoes of Swayze and Grey. Despite a supposed off-stage romance, the performance lacked chemistry, making it difficult to connect with their characters.
What Federico Bellone’s production does offer, though, is flawless dancing choreographed by Gillian Bruce.
Malou perfectly portrays Baby’s transformation from uncoordinated, middle-class daddy’s girl to Johnny’s sensual dance partner. Not a move out of place, Malou’s performances are impeccable.
Making his professional debut as Johnny, O’Reilly’s oozes confidence as he struts about on stage performing raunchy dance moves. O’Reilly portrays Johnny with just right mix of sex appeal and insecurity, clearly a natural performer he and Malou perform the iconic lift scene with ease – much to the delight of the audience.
With routines that would give a Strictly Come Dancing professional a run for their money, Millie Hood (Penny) was by far the star of the show for me. Her flexibility knows no bounds.
The group dancing sessions were robust and energetic, and the finale was, without a doubt, one of the best parts of the show.
Roberto Comotti’s set design, though impressive, lead to a few lengthy transitions due to its sheer size. That said, the cast did an excellent job of distracting the audience and were soon ready to take on the next scene. The lighting, by Valerio Tiberi, was captivating – the storm scenes were especially effective.
Featuring well-known hits such as ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Do You Love Me?’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’, Bergstein’s tale is packed with incredible musical notes – some of which were beautifully brought to life with live renditions.
I can’t guarantee you’ll have the time of your life, but it’ll certainly be an enjoyable evening.
images: Alastair Muir