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Film fans will have time of their lives

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By Theresa Smith

DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE

DIRECTOR: Sarah Tipple

CAST: Bryony Whitfield, Gareth Bailey, Mila de Biaggi Zane Gillion, Mark Rayment, Kate Normington, Rhys Williams, Mike Huff

VENUE: Artscape Opera House

UNTIL: March 3

RATING: ***

This film turned into a stage show is a crowd-pleaser. Taking its cue from the 1987 cult movie, this musical gives us dancing kids, gyrating hips and all the signals you expect from a dance film. It’s the film, almost scene by scene, certainly cue by cue.

By films are a frozen moment in time, and the original painted a coming-of-age picture of a young woman who learns a whole lot more than just how to dance from a dance instructor while on holiday.

Musicals, on the other hand, are about presenting a stylised peek into an unfolding scene, inviting the audience to live out that moment with the cast.

Why, then, use the same moments from the film for the stage, because the two genres depend on very different beats? What created dramatic narrative on film becomes a waste of time on stage with minute details becoming tiny, bitty scenes.

The set is a curious mix of hi-tech video projections of natural scenery and low-tech movable screens suggestive of louvred shutters. The costumes are gorgeous and multiple; while Baby (Whitfield) and Johnny (Bailey) don’t change clothes much, the rest of the cast are kept hopping from one lavish ensemble to the next.

The disparity in height between Whitfield and Bailey helps to heighten the difference between the two characters, who are from two different worlds. Whitfield manages a credible wide-eyed innocence and convinces as a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.

Bailey is extremely pleasing to the eye. So what if he is a one-trick pony, the audience loved the way he moved, even if he does equate over-emoting with acting.

Whitfield goes from stick figure trying to dance to smooth and confident by the last sequence when she has the hang of that dance with that lift, and really that is the point.

Baby and Johnny dance the same sequence over and over again throughout the show, but goodness knows people do not come to watch this to see something new, but to be comforted by something old and and familiar.

In his latest book, author Jasper Fforde makes a joke about how a nun is going to figure out if any of the nuns in a secretive order are actually male. Round them up and ask them the name of Jennifer Beale’s character in the Dirty Dancing film, comes the answer. And that is the audience for this production.

The show’s subtitle is perfect – the classic story on stage – because it is aimed at an audience looking for the film highlights – the mix of impossible romance and the suggestion that if you just learn the right steps and really feel the music in your heart, it will all work out and he will catch you.

Overall the dancing is pretty much on repeat – there are the sedate ballroom lessons and the more fun, risque stuff the staff do behind closed doors – but there’s not enough variety to showcase what looks like a strong troupe of dancers.

This musical is an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia of the film (which works because tickets are flying) and not for anyone seeking cutting-edge theatre. But if you never could persuade your husband to learn the steps to that dance, this is for you.

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