HOW do you please an audience who have come to see a stage musical because they love the film so much?
Simple. You replicate the film on stage.
Dirty Dancing, currently showing at the Liverpool Empire, has everything you remember from the 1987 Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey classic.
The script, scenes, costumes, dance moves are all as you recall.
Although actress Jill Winternitz is echoing Grey’s iconic lines and gestures as Baby, her ability to be cute, funny and touching eclipse the memory and she makes the part her own.
Her transformation from shy and clumsy to confident and sexy through a montage of dance classes with Johnny is humorously but subtly done, and her scenes with her father, played by James Coombes (who was the iconic Milk Tray man in the 1980s advertisements), are some of the best in the show.
Winternitz’s opposite number, Paul-Michael Jones as Johnny Castle, does not do as good a job measuring up to obvious Swayze comparisons.
It’s clear dancing, rather than acting, is his forte. His CV boasts representing England as a Latin American and ballroom dancer at the World Championships.
Along with Nicky Griffiths as Penny, the duo perform fantastic routines but unfortunately lack a certain sexy something to make it really memorable.
The final scene definitely has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ though, and lots of it. The audience squeal with excitement as Johnny Castle saunters down the aisle amongst the audience before striding onto the stage and boldly freeing Baby from her corner.
Jones works the audience wonderfully (especially the female members) as he gives them a ‘fingers-crossed-I don’t-drop-her’ look as he prepares for THE LIFT.
The production as a whole is impressive. The technique of projecting scenes at the back of the stage is fantastically effective, from vibrant green gardens to moody purple sunsets.
The pièce de résistance comes as Johnny and Baby practise the lift in firstly a corn field then a lake.
A screen is brought down at the front of the stage with images projected upon it. The couple’s top halves can be seen giving the impression they are waist deep in corn, then in water.
Dirty Dancing, The Classic Story on Stage broke records in the UK for having the highest advance ticket sales in history and it’s very easy to see why. Anybody who loves the film will love this.