The year is 1963. President Kennedy is in the White House, Martin Luther King has made his “I have a dream" speech and the Beatles haven’t quite made it across the pond. Cell phones haven’t been invented and that fact is smartly used to tell the audience to switch off theirs! Nice move.
Dr. Jake Houseman (James Coombes) and his family have bowled down to Kellerman’s Hotel in New York State for a late summer holiday. Houseman is the private physician of the hotel’s owner, Max Kellerman (Michael Remick) who says “I’d be standing up dead without this man!” The prestigious place is run so that its comfortably off clients can be wined, dined, entertained and indeed danced in style – a kind of Butlin’s for the rich.
Kellerman employs dancers who have the role of teachers on the dance floor but any fraternizing with clients beyond that is seen as step too far because of class differences. Summer jobbing college boys see things differently.
While Houseman and his wife Marjorie (Julia Nagle) are out improving their golf strokes, their innocent and idealistic younger daughter Baby (Roseanna Frascona) wanders the grounds chances upon the dancers. Their accommodation is modest to say the least and their lives and ways of dancing are wilder, indeed dirtier, than anything they do on Kellerman’s dance floor.
She is fascinated by them, especially by the principal dancer Johnny Castle (Gareth Bailey) and becomes embroiled in their lives in ways that result in not only her own sexual awakening but in the shattering of preconceptions all round.
This faithful stage version of the iconic original is done to live music from a small band seated discreetly behind and above the stage and accompanied by an early 60’s soundtrack including You Don’t Own me by the recently deceased Lesley Gore that sounded particularly poignant.
The ensemble is trigged out in lovely understated clothes of the time with no hint of pastiche. There are comic touches throughout with the likes of Mark Faith who occupies the sidelines as the clumsy angular Mr. Schumacher and Jessie-Lou Yates as Lisa Houseman when she does her Hawaiian turn.
Projected video images of various sky and landscapes not only give depth but create a cinematic quality that is especially impressive in sea and forest scenes. They also cleverly create the illusion of a crowded dance floor as the small ensemble boogies on stage.
It goes without saying that all the dancers are skilled but the principals manage to be consummate while on the revolving circle centre stage and Roseanna Frascona, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the film’s original star, Jennifer Grey, shows her enormous talent and professional skill by tripping as an awkward amateur learning to dance.
The rich but politically aware sandshoe wearing teenager and the brash but decent working class guy who has never voted may be diametrically opposed but their meeting and surrounding events creates a charged awakening in each. The message of integrity and fairness is wrapped in emotion as light as the girls’ net underskirts but none the worse for that.
Gareth Bailey is an exceptional dancer and may lack the raw intriguing danger of Patrick Swayze’s character in the ‘87 film but that didn’t stop the whoops and wolf whistles at the taps aff scene or when he swaggered through the audience to say the famous line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”
This brilliant production of Dirty Dancing will make your heart soar as high as Baby’s legendary lift!
24 February – 14 March