Dirty Dancing at Bristol Hippodrome

THIS production was a fine example of the reply, in a caption of a Victorian cartoon, of a very nervous Curate to the Bishop who has invited him to breakfast, to the remark “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg Mr Jones.”

“Oh no, My Lord, I assure you – parts of it are excellent’.

The stylish production des­ign­ed by Roberto Comotti for Federico Bellone, artistic director of Milan’s Teatro Nazionale, where this production had its premier before moving on the Roman Arena in Verona, and choreographed by Gillian Bruce, captures the atmosphere of those summer resorts north of New York in the Catskill Mountains in the 1980s at a time when these once immensely popular holiday destinations were beginning to loose their appeal.

Scenery whirls around at a dazzling speed so that the action never slows for a moment. The dialogue is presented at an equally fast pace, so fast in fact combining that with the desire to present every last bit of the story to be found in the 1987 film from which this musical was spawned, you would be hard pressed if not already a fan of the show to follow every twist in the plot.

Following in the steps of the late Patrick Swayze was professional debutante Michael O’Reilly, a young man with the dancing talents and physique to gladden the hearts and raise the temperatures of the many in the audience still with vivid memories of Swayze bearing his manly chest and stripping down to his underpants as he puts temptation in the way of Katie Eccles’s forthright inexperienced do-gooder Frances “Baby” Houseman.

In that respect Michael fitted the bill ideally, and his dancing partnerships firstly with the terrific Simone Covele, as his professional dance partner Penny Johnson, a long legged dancer who continually drew all eyes on to her, and then in the name of comedy exploiting Katie Eccles’s deliberate poor dancing, showed that he had that part of the role well covered. Between them they made that sequence where Michael attempts to teach Penny’s dance routines to Baby is one of the shows comedy highlights.

Dramatically Michael was not as convincing as Katie Eccles or Lynden Edwards excellent as Baby’s loving and very conservative father.

In between the long list of songs, which include the ever popular The Time of My Life, some serious story lines emerge, including abortion, the coming together of a male womaniser and inexperienced young lady, a young man wanting to leave his secure life behind and chase his dream to support Civil Rights, two elderly men realising that the world they love is coming to an end, and an almost unbelievable happy ending where the womaniser changes his spots and dyed-in -the-wool conservative father accepts him into the family.

Compared to the musical side of the show these themes are sketched in so thinly and quickly that they were difficult to follow, at times darn right confusing. This was a pity, because lurking among the supporting supporting roles were some lovely performances, notably Lizzie Ottley’s beautifully off-key vocals as Baby’s sister Lisa, Colin Charles and Jack McKenzie, the hotel owner Max Kellerman,  as the old timers hanging on to the good old days for all they’re worth, and Greg Fossard’s Neil Kellerman desperately trying to escape from the secure straight jacket his father has him confined in.

As with all such shows there was plenty of backing tape to help vocals and music, but on this occasion also three high-quality musicians, Kieran Kuypers, Ben Mabberley and Miles Russell, presenting the real thing on stage.


Posted in Reviews on .