Theatre Review: DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE – Palace Theatre, Manchester


The cast of DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. Photo Credit: Mark Senior

Loyally sticking to the film, DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE translates well from screen to stage thanks to stunning choreography and strong lead performances.

3.5 out of 5 stars

When DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE first opened at London’s Aldwych Theatre in 2006, it became the fastest ever selling show in West End theatre history. Since then, the production has grown from strength to strength, with sell-out tours in France, Germany, and Australia and a new UK tour landing at Manchester’s Palace Theatre this week for a five-night run.

Based on the hit 1987 film starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, DIRTY DANCING tells the classic story of Frances “Baby” Houseman, who falls in love with a dance instructor, Johnny Castle, while on holiday with her family. When Johnny’s dance partner Penny discovers she’s pregnant, Baby decides to step in to help save the day, their partnership quickly moving from the dance floor to the bedroom.

For the most part, Federico Bellone’s production of this cult classic translates well from screen to stage, following the film almost word-for-word, with the addition of a few extra scenes. Roberto Comotti’s set design brings the upmarket Kellermans holiday resort to life on stage, and despite being stripped back from the 2019 touring version, makes clever use of Valerio Tiberi and Nick Riching’s lighting design to recreate famous sequences from the film, such as Baby and Johnny’s lift in the lake.

Kira Malou (Baby) and Michael O'Reilly (Johnny) in DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE

Kira Malou (Baby) and Michael O’Reilly (Johnny) in DIRTY DANCING. Photo Credit: Mark Senior

Of course, for DIRTY DANCING to succeed, there must be chemistry between the two leads, and thankfully, this is present in spades. Kira Malou brings her own style and innocence to the role of Baby, transforming from a sweet and naïve teenager to a confident and sensual woman in love. Her chemistry with Michael O’Reilly as Johnny feels natural and real, with O’Reilly oozing charisma and confidence as the sultry dance instructor. It is refreshing to see both actors bring their own interpretation to the role, rather than mimicking Grey and Swayze’s performances, which helps keep this production fresh and alive.

If you’re expecting a traditional musical here, you may be a little disappointed. Not all musical numbers are sung live, with pop classics from the film including HUNGRY EYES, HEY BABY!, and CRY TO ME featuring as pre-recorded tracks.

Yet, when the cast does perform live, they do it with gusto. Colin Charles and Amber Sylvia Edwards particularly stand out for their performance of LOVE MAN and YES! respectively, as well as their heart-stopping duet (I’VE HAD) THE TIME OF MY LIFE. The decision to feature the house band as characters also works particularly well.

Michael O'Reilly (Johnny) and Carlie Milner (Penny) in DIRTY DANCING.

Michael O’Reilly (Johnny) & Carlie Milner (Penny) in DIRTY DANCING. Photo Credit: Mark Senior

The show could benefit from a bit of trimming here and there, with some musical numbers, including an oddly placed duet by Baby’s parents (Lynden Edwards and Jackie Morrison) and Billy Kostecki’s solo IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT, existing only to fill time rather than push the narrative along.

The decision to add in extra scenes – such as the camp-fire sequence in which the resort staff and guests listen along to Martin Luther King’s speech – also feels poorly executed, rapidly skimming over the narrative’s more serious issues, such as abortion, civil rights and domestic violence.

That said, the backbone of this production is the dancing with doesn’t disappoint thanks to some stunning choreography from Austin Wilks, who mixes jaw-dropping, steamy routines with fun ensemble numbers such as the energetic finale.

If you’re a fan of the original film, you’re sure to enjoy DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. This coming-of-age story may be over 30 years old, but it still has the power to dazzle and delight.

DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 2 October 2021.