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

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

Kira Malou & Michael O’Reilly in DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. Photo Credit: Alastair Muir

Loyally sticking to the film, DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE dazzles thanks to its stunning choreography and ingenious staging

4 out of 5 stars

As a child of the 80s, I’m not ashamed to say that DIRTY DANCING is one of my favourite films of all time. Released in 1987, the hit movie starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze became a huge hit with fans, earning over $214 million worldwide and leading to a 2004 prequel, DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS as well as a stage version which is currently on tour in the UK.

Set in the summer of 1963, DIRTY DANCING tells the story of 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman who falls in love with a dance instructor, Johnny Castle, while on holiday with her parents and sister at the Kellerman’s resort. As their moves on the dancefloor end up in the bedroom, Baby endures the breakdown of her relationship with her father as she grows from a naive teenager into a confident and sensual woman.

Michael O'Reilly, Kira Malou & Simone Covele in DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE.

Michael O’Reilly, Kira Malou & Simone Covele in DIRTY DANCING. Photo Credit: Alastair Muir

Federico Bellone’s latest touring production sticks loyally to the film, taking us through the movie almost scene by scene thanks to Roberto Comotti’s rotating set design and Valerio Tiberi’s lighting design, which cleverly uses projection to bring to life famous sequences such as Baby and Johnny’s lift in the lake, which is particularly funny and ingenious.

Kira Malou impresses in the role of Baby, growing from sweet innocence into the brave protagonist we all know and love. Her chemistry with Michael O’Reilly as sultry dance instructor Johnny feels natural and they dance together with passionate ease. O’Reilly, who has some rather big shoes to fill as Patrick Swayze’s character, also holds it together well, his dancing is spot on even if the delivery of some of his lines come across a little wooden at times.

Elsewhere Simone Covele dazzles as Penny Johnson, particularly in the dance numbers while Lizzie Ottley provides some light comic relief as Baby’s sister Lisa, her hula number standing out as a particular highlight.


The company of DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. Photo Credit: Alistair Muir

It’s worth noting at this point that while the show features 35 songs, this is not a musical in a traditional sense. Instead, pre-recorded pop classics from the film including HUNGRY EYES, HEY BABY, DO YOU LOVE ME? and the heart-stopping (I’VE HAD) THE TIME OF MY LIFE accompany live musical numbers and while the vast majority of the scenes work well here, some of them feel oddly placed, like the moment when Baby’s parents (Lynden Edwards and Lori Haley Fox) share a brief duet.

The show could also benefit from a little trimming here and there as it rapidly runs through every scene, trying to cram everything in and some of the musical numbers, such as the campfire scene and Alex Wheeler’s solo IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT seem to exist only to fill time rather than push the narrative along.

That said, fans of the film will no doubt love DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE, the story translating well from screen to stage. Gillian Bruce’s stunning choreography is also a real treat to watch, mixing jaw-dropping, steamy routines with fun group numbers like the energetic finale which has the audience on their feet.

DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 27 April 2019