In 1987, a motion picture named Dirty Dancing first made it onto screens. Patrick Swayze was the handsome bad boy dancer Johnny Castle, and Jennifer Grey was Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, the shy teenager spending her summer with her family at the Kellerman’s resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The film, made for a modest $6 million, went on to make over $200 million at the worldwide box-office, and spawned a recent remake and this, a stage production which has been even more successful than its celluloid sister, packing in audiences around the world since its debut in Australia in 2004.
In 2019, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on stage is still going strong, a new nationwide tour boasting an impressive new cast and production, on certain to keep packing in audiences up and down the country night after night. The key to its success will always be the casting of the three roles at the centre of the story – Johnny Castle, his professional dance partner Penny, and, of course, ‘Baby’. The new touring production has found three perfect performers for the role – the dazzling Simone Covele as Penny, a superb Kira Malou in the role of Baby, and above all, the towering Michael O’Reilly as Johnny Castle, perhaps the best incarnation of the Swayze character we’ve ever seen in the role.
For those not familiar with the story, let us briefly recap. It is the summer of 1963, the location upstate New York, the Kellerman’s resort, a holiday camp designed to entertain the locals from dawn until dusk – with some extracurricular activities taking place after dark – the so-called Dirty Dancing of the title taking place amongst the employees in the underground rooms of the sprawling camp. Johnny Castle is the king of the dancefloor, one who gives dance classes by day, and then takes to the staff areas at night – doing his kind of dancing with his kind of people. On vacation there this summer is the Houseman family, led by doctor father Jake (Lynden Edwards), his wife Marjorie (Lori Hayley Fox), and daughter Lisa (Lizzie Ottley) and Frances (Baby). It’s not long before the latter accidentally stumbles across the underground, all-night dance party, catching the sight of and swooning over the legendary Johnny Castle. A series of events see Baby becoming his new dance partner, and ultimately the two fall for one another during a fateful summer where they really do end up having the time of their lives.
This new production pleases from the off, the famous beats of ‘Be My Baby’ cleverly morphing into an ensemble rendition of ‘This Magic Moment’, performed in the familiar setting of the steamy staff quarters of the Kellerman’s hotel. The word steamy is the best way to sum up this new production – naked torsos and sultry dancing littered throughout – and our audience lapped up every minute of it. Musical additions to the already sizzling soundtrack are performed by the cast and by audio accompaniment, but the on-stage band are also a stand-out, working their way through the songs of one of the most popular movie albums of all time.
It goes without saying that if you’re a fan of the original movie, you’ll get a lot out of this, but newbies will also appreciate the top-notch artistry and staging on show here. There is a reason that this stage musical has been packing audiences for 15 years – it’s simple outstanding from the inventive production design to the blistering performances and the uplifting nature of the narrative. Dirty Dancing is a timeless classic that will never grow old, and this new tour could just be the best version yet. You really will have the time of your lives.
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage is touring the country until August 2019.