Piccadilly Theatre, London
After a successful five-year run and two-year national tour, Dirty Dancing returns to the West End at the Piccadilly Theatre bigger and better than ever, proving that nobody puts Baby in the corner.
Eleanor Bergstein’s original script from the movie is still largely used with a few additional scenes and character and plot alterations while the show also features favourite musical numbers Hungry Eyes, Hey Baby and Do You Love Me? The majority of the songs are simply played rather than sung by the cast though this is understandable as the plot focuses on dance. However we are still treated to a wonderful rendition of the Academy Award-winning Time Of My Life by two of the ensemble.
Playing innocent ‘Baby’ Houseman is American actress Jill Winternitz who played the lead role as part of the touring cast (in fact, many of the touring cast members are in place). Winternitz is the perfect image of Baby from her battered plimsolls to that unruly mane of hair. She is quirky and confident, though perhaps a little too much considering the character’s initial naivety. Nonetheless she wins the audiences’ heart with her loveable nature and, of course, impressive dance moves including that famous ‘lift’. Paul-Michael Jones as Johnny Castle however is somewhat bland. He lacks the charisma and charm one would expect of his character though this flaw is easily forgotten when he starts dancing.
James Coombes plays Baby’s loving but strict father while Julia Nagle keeps him in check as his wife Marjorie. Additional scenes complement their relationship and show the audience as well as Baby and Johnny that real love is worth fighting for, making the already cheese-loaded storyline even more so. It is their elder daughter, Lisa, played by Emilia Williams however that really delivers the entertainment. Her facial expressions and comical timing are hilarious and her annoying American accent soon becomes charming.
Along with the script and soundtrack, this stage production matches the 1960s fashion and setting depicted in the movie to perfection. The innumerable amount of dresses – from Vivian’s slinky black number to Lisa’s dainty summer overalls – are beautifully accurate of the time while the white-picket fence image emphasises the family feel. Sadly, the water and field projections used during one scene are a little tacky, however the thunder and lightning effects successfully create a realistic atmosphere.
Of course, above everything else, Dirty Dancing is all about the moves and this production does not fail to deliver. The choreography is raunchy and sexy in the staff area but also clean-cut and impressive in what is depicted as the many Camp Kellerman parties. Though Winternitz and Jones are exceptional dancers, the real star of the show is Charlotte Gooch as Penny Johnson. Her moves are spectacular but her talent does not stop there; Gooch’s attitude and demeanour is exactly how Penny should be and her story is heartbreaking from start to finish.
The entire performance is, as expected, utterly cheesy but this is what makes Dirty Dancing such an enjoyable evening. The show made West End history as the fastest-selling and longest-running production at the Aldwych Theatre and was seen by more than two million people, so it is not surprising to see it return to London.
Dirty Dancing is sure to have you up on your feet and having the ‘time of your life’.