Dirty Dancing at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre

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Kirby Burgess (Baby) and Kurt Phelan (Johnny) in Dirty Dancing (c) Jeff Busby

Dirty Dancing The Classic Story on Stage is playing to enthusiastic audiences at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.
There’s plenty of whooping and hollering when the cast utter such classic lines from the movie such as `nobody puts baby in the corner’ and ‘I carried a watermelon’.
As the title suggests the stage production is based on the cult movie of the same name which starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. It’s an updated version of the first stage play which appeared in 2004 and while there have been a few changes (a civil rights theme has been added), fans of the films will recognise every scene and most lines.

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Kirby Burgess (Baby) and Ensemble (c) Jeff Busby

Like the movie, the stage show is set in the summer of 1963 where 17 year old Frances “Baby” Houseman is on holidays in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents. Baby shows little interest in the resort activities, and instead discovers her own entertainment when she stumbles upon the staff quarters where an all-night dance party is in full swing. Mesmerised by the raunchy dance moves and the pounding rhythms, Baby can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle the resort dance instructor. Baby’s life changes forever as she is thrown in at the deep end as Johnny’s leading lady both on-stage and off with breathtaking consequences.

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Kurt Phelan (Johnny), Kirby Burgess (Baby) and Nadia Coote (Penny) (c) Jeff Busby

As is the case with the movie and the previous stage show, the dancing is one of the highlights of this new production. Kurt Phelan as Johnny Castle and Maddie Peat as Penny are both fantastic while Kirby Burgess as Baby is understandably playing to critical acclaim for both her acting and dancing.
Then there’s the music which includes Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, Do You Love Me? and the iconic (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.
However none of the leads sing – the music is either pre-recorded or there are featured singers including Mark Vincent, whose rendition of In The Still of the Night, is a show stopper. The band is another highlight.

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Kirby Burgess (Baby) and Kurt Phelan (Johnny) (c) Jeff Busby

New additions to this production include the use of projections. The most entertaining – a recreation of the Lake used by Johnny and Baby to practise their lifts (yes, I must admit to being a fan of the movie). However be warned, if you have seats on the right of the stage with limited view as we did (Grand Circle Row A Seat 40 and 41) you will miss quite a bit of the action.
The production has divided critics. Those less enthusiastic cite the lack of character development, the very short scenes which finish abruptly and the lack of charisma between the leads. Those who rate it highlight the dancing, the `fun feel’ of the production and the chance to re-live iconic scenes from the movie. I tend to fall in the latter category but probably would have enjoyed it more had I been able to see all the stage!

*Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Dirty Dancing at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on Thursday March 5.

Dirty Dancing opens at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre on May 27.  The Dirty Dancing website has more information on this and other performances around Australia.

 

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