Leeds Grand Theatre offers a parting sprinkle of summertime ahead of the festive season with Dirty Dancing, the musical based on the cult Eighties motion picture. A nostalgic romantic drama showcasing dance, drama and song, the show provides an expanded book by Eleanor Bergstein with over two dozen musical numbers, underscoring a coming-of-age love story between Frances “Baby” Houseman and holiday resort dancer Johnny Castle.
A struggle between identity, revolution, and a generation gap, Dirty Dancing tells a tale beyond the romanticism of dance. Bergstein’s adaptation of her film script is tautly structured, densely factoring in contemporary musical hits and political overtones from the Sixties, giving the production a vivid sense of time and place. Capturing the zeitgeist of the era, the book acknowledges the shift in racial and gender equality, placing ethnic diversity, premarital sex and the politics of abortion at the forefront of an otherwise idealised romance.
Drawing from the film, Dirty Dancing is a curious fusion of early Sixties chic and late Eighties nostalgia, evidenced on stage as a cocktail of shocking pink and ultra violet colour pallets. Sarah Tipple’s direction is effectively blocked, working imaginatively with Stephen Brimson Lewis’ unique production design to evoke a cinematic scope. Presenting projected imagery upon constantly moving grey shutters, the presentation is high concept with ascetically simple dressings. Wholly stripped down with a modern approach, a rotating stage and motorised platform provides an added dimension and unique sightline for the audience, again buttressing its cinematic quality.
Conrad Helfrich’s musical direction is constantly colourful, gleefully celebrating surf rock and pop ballads. Numbers range from original recordings which underscore the drama, to wholly orchestrated arrangements performed by a band elevated to a central position above the stage. With stabbing brass notes and jolting drums, there is a genuine party vibe to the performance, as evidenced through several of the musicians mouthing lyrics whilst performing. The infamous finale piece, (I’ve Had) the Time of My Life, is also arranged with pinpoint authenticity to the original, with outstanding vocals by Wayne Smith. In short, the score is an evocation of two distinct eras of popular music and is celebrated with convivial charm.
Dirty Dancing’s cast is a faultless checklist of the multi-talented. Gareth Bailey as Johnny is impressively dominant and highly charged, capturing a rebellious, mysterious quality. He is exceptionally paired with Claire Rogers, who as Penny is a constantly alluring spectacle of sensuality. Showcasing some of the finest dance to be seen on stage today, the duo breathes charisma and raw energy. Kate Champion’s choreography must be commended; richly complex and commanding the stage with naturalistic youthfulness, it constantly elicits character and drama.
In support, James Coombes is suitably authoritarian as Dr Jake Houseman, providing a debonair gravitas whilst paired with Julia Nagle who extols a wholesome warmth. The ensemble is equally impressive, demonstrating prodigious skill in dance and song. Undoubtedly the standout performance is Roseanna Frascona as Baby, who is delicately played with innocence and subtle insecurity. Comical and dramatic, seductive and sincere, Frascona embodies the spirit and vitality of youth in a performance which is utterly enchanting expertly depicted.
A show which will appeal to all sexes for all the right reasons, Dirty Dancing is a highly successful stage adaptation, deploying all of musical theatre’s finest traditions to make for an incredibly vibrant flight of fancy. A feel-good romp which promises one of the most uplifting walk-down routines in movie history, Dirty Dancing is an unabashed festival of fun. Don’t sit in a corner and miss this one; you’ll possibly have the time of your life.