Photos – Belinda Strodder www.dancephotography.net.au
Dirty Dancing the movie was a small-budget feature that struck a chord with audiences, churned out a hit song, (I've Had) The Time of My Life, and made Patrick Swayze an international sex-symbol. As a film though, it was average.
Ten years ago some Australian producers worked with the film's writer Eleanor Bergstein to re-create the film on stage, something that she was keen to do. With additional scenes and more music, the stage adaptation only proved that some films should probably be left as films.
Strangely enough that production travelled overseas and went on to play the West End for several years. So obviously there was an audience for it.
Now, a decade later, and Australia is hosting an updated version (lots more money in the production, even more impressive design, etc) and the feeling is...it really, really should have been left alone.
Bergstein's story is set in the US summer of 1963, during a time of change and awakening. Frances "Baby" Houseman is spending the holidays at a mountain resort with her family when she meets and is attracted to the local 'hot' dance teacher Johnny Castle. When she gets to replace his dance partner, we all know where the story is heading.
Unfortunately the script here is not particularly good. Many scenes are quite brief, with very little character development and songs seemingly thrown in randomly (usually as pre-recorded backdrops). By the way, Dirty Dancing is not really a musical, the songs that are sung live on stage are generally sung by featured performers, not the leads. It seems odd to see so many musical theatre performers on stage, hardly singing a note.
The acting is uneven. Kurt Phelan as Johnny Castle comes away looking like a good dancer. Kirby Burgess fares better as Baby as she traces the changes her character undergoes. Burgess at least shows that she has star potential and real presence. Unfortunately the chemistry between these two leads is really hard to detect.
Even the talented Adam Murphy as Baby's dad can't save what happens on stage. And there is a lot of talent on stage – the ensemble bring a great deal of energy to the performance. Sadly, it just doesn't work.
The Band – under David Skelton's music direction, however, sound great, and are featured in a number of scenes. The arrangements at least manage to give the show some excitement.
Jon Driscoll's video and projection design generally looks great, but seems to be where most of the budget was spent. With minimal sets, his design gives the show a filmic quality and yes the sequence in the water does get a laugh.
A note to the director James Powell: If you are determined to stage a large number of scenes stage right, you are ensuring that a large slice of the audience have restricted views of the action. You have a big, wide stage to play with. When our dance hero shouts out the immortal line "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" it was hard to resist responding "The director does"!
Unfortunately this was not a memorable night at the theatre. However, I acknowledge that there are many DD devotees out there who will overlook any criticism and still enjoy the memory.
Venue: Princess Theatre | 163 Spring Street Melbourne
Dates: from 4 Mar 2015