Review: Dirty Dancing - King's Theatre, Glasgow

“Nobody puts baby in a corner!”

Love it or loathe it, Dirty Dancing is one of the classic romantic films of our time. In 2004 this iconic film was adapted into a stage production with original screen writer Eleanor Bergstein at the helm and the commercially successful show is currently on its first UK national tour.

Dirty Dancing opened at the King’s Theatre on Thursday night in distinctly Scottish style. As we approached the theatre the unmistakable logo became apparent, projected in giant size onto the building. The colour pink exploded from every window plus a hot pink welcome carpet and, in a uniquely Scottish twist, a piper playing “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” invited the excited audience in from the damp Glasgow night.

I have to confess, I have seen the film probably more times than I care to admit to and the fact that I had to re-purchase three videos due to lines appearing in them (remember VHS?!) is testament to my devotion to the modern-day fairytale of Johnny and Baby. Unsurprisingly, I was not the only fan of the film in the predominantly female audience. The auditorium was alive with groups of friends and families ready to enjoy the spectacle of their favourite film translated to the stage already decked out in newly bought ‘I Carried a Watermelon’ t-shirts and clutching their glasses of wine.As the first strains of ‘Be My Baby’ began and Baby (Emily Holt) started her unforgettable opening monologue culminating with “That was the summer we went to Kellerman’s”, there was an unmistakable ripple of excitement through the audience.

As the story began to unfold, it became clear that the set relies heavily on the use of projection and my first complaint is that the image of a building used to represent Kellerman’s doesn't feel like the unmistakable set of the film. While that may seem a minor detail, when tackling such a classic film details such as staying true to the original imagery are crucial if you are selling the audience on the show being their favourite film live on stage. However, for the most part, the stage show embodies the spirit of the film with all the original songs, favourite lines and even plot holes included with a few additional scenes to embellish the plotline beyond Johnny and Baby.

The double-edged sword for this show is that Dirty Dancing is so familiar that it faces the same challenges as Disney does when converting its animated films for the stage. The audience are so used to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in their roles that there is very little leeway for the cast to bring their own touches to the characters but the cast take on the challenge with gusto. Paul-Michael Jones and Emily Holt play Johnny and Baby capably and Charlotte Gooch is scene-stealing as Penny. Gooch and Jones are a perfect fit in the dance sequences; they glide across the stage in a seemingly effortless blur of complicated footwork. Thomas Aldridge is adorable as Johnny’s cousin Billy and brings real warmth to the role. Billy has always been the character I rooted for in the film so it’s wonderful to see him brought to life with such vitality. Emilia Williams captures the essence of Lisa Houseman faultlessly and her hula piece in the auditions for the summer show brought the house down. Neil Kellerman just can’t catch a break and Joe Evans brings the best of his geekish nature to his interpretation of the character.

The cast work well with the, occasionally schmaltzy, material and transform the 2D characters into vibrant, colourful 3D. While the set and some of the design choices leave much to be desired, the hardworking, energetic cast and enthusiastic band create the night out that the whole audience came to the theatre expecting.

The first national tour of Dirty Dancing is in town for 4 weeks and if the roof on the theatre is still on by the end of its run it will be a miracle. The rapturous roar that greeted the delivery of ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’ was deafening. As soon as Johnny and Baby stood in the spotlight and the unmistakable first notes of (I’ve Had) The Time of my Life began sections of the audience were on their feet and ready to dance their way through the hotly anticipated iconic finale. As Baby was lifted into the air held confidently by Johnny another roar filled the King’s Theatre signifying the noisy seal of approval from the Glasgow audience.

This show doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, a film shoehorned into the guise of a stage musical but the audience doesn’t care. The tickets are sold on the basis that Johnny and Baby’s fairytale will come to life on stage and it does but it will always remain in the long shadow cast by the film.

Sat 22nd October - Sat 12th November
Matinees: Fri 5.00pm / Sat 2.30pm
Evenings: Mon - Sat 7.30pm / Fri 8.30pm

Box Office 08448 717 648 (Bkg fee) (bkg fee)
Tickets bought in person at the theatre box office do not carry a booking fee.