Dancing will give you a lift
John Frost, Karl Sydow, Martin McCallum and Joye Entertainment Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC Reviewed: May 28 Reviewer: Nathanael Cooper
DIRTY Dancing has rolled back into town, a decade after the stage incarnation of the classic film came here.
Those who saw it the first time, and are expecting to see the same again, should adjust their expectations.
Apart from the story and the songs, much has changed.
The original production abandoned sets in favour of gigantic LED screens and projections. It made the show look cheap at the time but was, at least, slightly innovative.
In the current production, which is drawn from the UK touring model, gigantic LED screens are replaced by one rather small one – slightly bigger than your telly at home. It looks cheaper. The original production was dogged by a terrible book that could have gone through some liberal red pen usage.
The current production has had some edits, which makes it slightly better, but the book is terrible.
Even an experienced Shakespearean actor would struggle to make the words on the page less cringe-worthy.
The other problem with bringing an existing show holus-bolus from another country is the paint-by-numbers directing that is shoved on the cast without much thought for what they could actually achieve with new direction.
It’s not all bad though, the show does have its saving graces. Firstly, there is the dancing.
The choreography in this show is fantastic and, if there were more people on the stage, it would be mind-blowing to watch.
As it stands, with a relatively small ensemble, it is great, but the eye aches for a few things to fill the spaces. The ensemble, made up of some of the country’s best dancers, execute the choreography beautifully.
Some very clever casting in the supporting leads also helps prop the show up.
Adam Murphy and Penny Martin as Baby’s parents Jake and Marjorie Houseman are divine. Murphy’s comic timing is spot on and, while Martin doesn’t get too many moments to shine, she really uses the moments she does get.
Newcomer Gabriel Brown, as dorky Baby suitor Neil Kellerman, is hysterical and strangely lovable despite being set up as a bit of a villain.
And Teagan Wouters’ turn as Baby’s sister Lisa really steals the second act.
But it is the expert casting of the leads that saves this production from being a dud.
Lots of talk in the foyer was that Kurt Phelan (pictured) wasn’t enough like Patrick Swayze and Kirby Burgess wasn’t enough like Jennifer Grey. If you want to see Swayze and Grey, I suggest you buy the movie.
If you want to see two fine actors really working for their pay cheque (remember how bad the book is), and giving sweetness and nuance to the characters that were missing in the film, then this is worth seeing.
Then add the fact they each are phenomenal dancers and you leave feeling like you got your money’s worth.
This show (and the movie) hangs on that famous lift at the end, and it is there, and by the time you have endured the two hours and 10 minutes of the show to reach that point, it is going to lift you up just like Baby, which will make everyone leave happy.