Theatre review - Dirty Dancing, The Palace Theatre, Manchester

PUBLISHED: 09:16 20 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:16 20 July 2017

The cast of Dirty Dancing

The cast of Dirty Dancing


Last night's opening of Dirty Dancing at The Palace Theatre in Manchester was an exuberant celebration of an iconic movie that brought the audience to its feet.

Carlie Milner & Lewis GriffithsCarlie Milner & Lewis Griffiths

Last night’s opening of Dirty Dancing at The Palace Theatre in Manchester was an exuberant celebration of an iconic movie that brought the audience to its feet.

Dirty Dancing is a movie that once seen is never forgotten. It’s so loved by so many women that the opening bars of more than one song from the film can bring the whole storyline rushing back, accompanied by every emotion first stirred when first seen. Taking on a film this big, this loved, is a grand challenge – and its been done brilliantly.

Katie Eccles as Baby and Lewis Griffiths as JohnnyKatie Eccles as Baby and Lewis Griffiths as Johnny

From the first desperately awaited iconic line ‘I brought a watermelon’ to the last ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner,’ this stage version is a dazzling parade of beautifully executed storytelling just exactly as the audience wants it.

Nobody wants Dirty Dancing to be ‘re-imagined,’ and thankfully it’s not. It’s all here, packed into two madly busy halves that roll along at a pace that might dazzle anyone not familiar with the tale. Although, judging by last night’s audiences’ reactions to every scene, these poor fools are few and far between.

Carlie Milner & Lewis GriffithsCarlie Milner & Lewis Griffiths

Close your eyes and think of a favourite moment from the film…and it’s there. From juggling watermelons to merengue-ing across the bridge to cha cha in the dance studio to that lift in the lake…it’s all there. Oh, and the music. It’s all too easy to forget just how many great songs this film packed in, once you get past the obvious.

The theatre show makes great use of a live band and two tremendous singers to carry off the iconic songs just as they should be. Sophia Mckay and Michael Kent have enormous talent and carry the songs well. Another character well worth highlighting is Baby’s sister, Lisa, played brilliantly by Lizzie Ottley. Her rendition of Hula Hana, delivered in a key nobody can reach without serious training and with a clumsy, out-of-beat wriggle, is so well done she gets one of the biggest cheers of the evening.

Our main characters, the angry and very hot Johnny Castle, played by Lewis Griffiths, and innocent yet ready to learn Baby Houseman, played by Katie Eccles, have to carry the greatest weight of expectation and do it with ease. They are easily believable in their roles, from Baby’s awkward innocence to Johhny’s sexy badness and nothing jars in their performance at all.

Their dance talent is unarguable; it must take hours and hours of practice to get every step exactly as it should be, set in stone by an iconic film you mess with at your peril. What the audience wants, the audience gets – from the jaw-dropping, breath-catching first moment of ‘dirty’ dancing from Johnny in the staff quarters to Baby’s rigid hip movements as she attempts to learn the merengue with a very frustrated Johnny. And oh yes, that lift. That incredibly difficult, vitally important lift. Perfection. We knew it was coming, of course. From the moment Johnny strides down the centre aisle of the stalls we know it’s coming. The audience holds its collective breath until he utters those glorious words: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”, then releases it with a bellowing scream as the scene progresses into that incredible, unforgettable mambo we all wish, with a passion, we could do.

Dirty Dancing is on in Manchester until Saturday 22 July

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