Dirty Dancing at Bristol Hippodrome

revsdirtydance“NOBODY puts Baby in the corner.” A fairly simple statement, about the main character in a 1987 film, which provoked the biggest cheer and longest ovation of this evening’s stage presentation of Dirty Dancing at Bristol, from an audience most of which was very familiar with every line, move and song in the story. Having seen the film just a few years ago, and enjoyed its simple message of a teenager growing into adulthood in 1963, and the parallel tale of mistreated staff at a holiday resort with the growing civil rights movement in America, I was looking forward to seeing its translation onto the stage, a presentation which has toured worldwide almost constantly for the past ten years.

The story works well on stage, all the iconic scenes from the film are reproduced, including watermelons being carried, dancing on a fallen tree and the “lift” at the end of the big dance, and much of the famous music is featured, most of it played live by a talented band under Richard Weeden, including some wonderful solo saxophone, trumpet and guitar

Much of the set is projected, or rather, transmitted, on television-like screens, making up most of the backdrop and two full length side curtains, which makes the scenery instantly adaptable from a tranquil woodland scene, through the holiday camp cabins and stage curtains, into fields of corn and a lake (very useful for the famous dance lift training scene). This footage is specially filmed and edited to fit with actual scenery in the play, doors, shutters, staging, etc., and Jon Driscoll is to be congratulated for this fascinating video work.

The main protagonist, Baby, played by the tiny and vulnerable Roseanna Frascona, grew convincingly from slightly awkward to almost accomplished dancer, and Lewis Kirk as the rebellious Johnny was not only a great dancer, but also looked every inch the part, drawing whistles from the audience as he appeared in fewer and fewer clothes. He is one of the understudies for the role, but was completely at home in the role.

Other main parts were all convincing, but apart from a few references to civil unrest, there is little in the way of subplot to get in the way of the story of Baby and Johnny falling for each other, although special mention must be made of Claire Rogers dancing, as Penny, whose incapacitation brings about Baby’s dancing.

Compared with recent large tours to Bristol, in particular Cabaret, Evita and Happy Days, the ensemble do not get much of an opportunity to show off their skills as dancers, partly because they are all playing dancers at a fairly basic holiday camp. As waiters, guests, and hosts, they all supported the main characters well, but it would have been great to see one or two dances where they were all completely synchronised, completely together: it seemed a little ragged at times, presumably, and hopefully, on purpose

If you love the film, as the ninety per cent female audience obviously did this evening, get along to see it at Bristol Hippodrome until 5th April, back at Southampton in June, and around the country until July 2015, but if you have never seen the film, perhaps take a friend who has. This is great entertainment, destined to run for a few more years yet.

Wednesday 19th March 2014

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