Review: Dirty Dancing at Empire

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Paul-Michael Jones as ‘Johnny Castle’ and Jill Winternitz as ‘Baby’ © Official Dirty Dancing website

It’s the quintessential fairytale for the hopeless romantic… ‘Dirty Dancing’ is the classic love affair against all odds, a story of forbidden fruit that lures the escapist into a self-induced fool’s paradise.

The women pine for the steely abs of rebellious heart-throb Johnny Castle, as the guys, well, probably gawp with seething admiration at his infamous swagger.

After gracing our screens for nearly a quarter of a century with the trials and tribulations of Kellerman’s summer camp, it was consequently ushered to the big stage and was instantly lauded as a theatrical sensation.

After five years of continued success entertaining audiences in the West-End, Dirty Dancing uprooted to depart on its first national tour including a string of shows in Liverpool at the Empire Theatre.

Of course the stage adaptation of this humble tale of forbidden love contains more than it’s fill of the uplifting conventions that propelled it into the limelight as a cinematic blockbuster. The vibrant dance moves, the unrequited lust and of course the effete one-liners that roll off the tongue with clinical ease, all the characterisations that devout aficionados salivate over with a genuine passion.

Paul-Micheal Jones has the unenviable task of attempting to emulate beloved pin-up Patrick Swayze, a seemingly impossible task for almost any suitor. His musclebound physique, glossy flaunts and terrific stage presence isn’t enough to yield the raw, provocative nature required to attain comparative plaudits. The distinct lack of on stage chemistry between him and Jill Winternizt’s impassioned adaption of Baby is a flat note on an otherwise flawless collaboration.

Penny (a fiery Nicky Griffiths) cavorts around the entire cast with decadent twirls of mesmerism as Emma Williams plays the quavering Lisa as her rendition of the hula receives a wild reception of infectious chortles.

It’s not just the dancing that seems to be catching the audience’s imagination © Official Dirty Dancing website

A drawn-out sub-plot is the only confusion amongst a narrative that mostly adheres to the confines of the film. An extra scene involving civil rights inquests attempts to introduce inconsequential characters which unfortunately detractsfrom the fluidity of the production.

As the climactic finale approaches, uproarious wails of ecstasy resonate around the auditorium, they know what’s coming and before long that notorious line is dramatically bellowed: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”

Excitable audience members suddenly flounce around in the foyer area in outbursts of joy attempting to emulate their idols on stage, with a varied degree of success.

Then, the moment of divine union as Baby conquers her fears and delicately floats into the burly arms of Johnny to rebel against her father’s tyranny and complete the converted iconic lift.

The production and choreography is impeccable throughout and to linger on an unavoidable reference, it just might be possible that this audience has had the time of their life after all.

About Joshua Nevett, JMU Journalism