Thursday, 16 June 2005

Dirty Dancing by Eleanor Bergstein, June 16, 2005

 Dirty Dancing by Eleanor Bergstein 
By Jacobsen Entertainment/Lion's Gate Films/Magic Hour Productions
Princess Theatre, Melbourne, from June 16 until November, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 16, 2005

The phenomenon of Dirty Dancing fandom escaped most of us until it recently hit the stage. Fans of the movie attended it repeatedly and are doing so with the stage show.

They speak the characters' dialogue, cheer particular lines such as, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," and, if there were room, they'd be dancing in the aisles.

Frances "Baby" Houseman, played engagingly by Kym Valentine, is a naïve American teenager who is going through a Coming of Age experience.

 Baby is an honest, cheerful child  interested in Civil Rights and joining the Peace Corps. She supports Martin Luther King's civil rights movement.

While spending the summer of 1963 at Kellerman's resort hotel, Baby deceives and defies her father, (Tony Cogin) and mother (Helen Buday) by helping a hapless dancer (Nadia Coote) obtain a backyard abortion.

Baby becomes the secret dance partner of the Kellerman's most popular dance instructor, Johnny Castle, (Josef Brown) then falls in love with him. Johnny is a talented but poor young man with magnetic powers of attracting wealthy women.

The show is called a play with music but it is the sensual dancing that is its feature. However, it lacks the erotic quality of the original dancing between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

Valentine is a charming presence and Brown a magnificent, sensual dancer. What is missing is chemistry between them so the show lacks passion and palpable sensuality.

In unison with the flexible, contemporary design (Richard Roberts) and lighting (Nigel Levings), director, Mark Wing-Davey, uses transformational projected imagery to create an elaborate sense of location.

The music of the early 60s provides a vivid background but it is the songs, Hungry Eyes and I've Had the Time of My Life that send the audience wild.

The cast is strong. Leonie Page is compelling as the rapacious Vivian Pressman and Jeremiah Tickell is delightful as the geeky, relentlessly cheerful rich boy, Neil Kellerman.

The story meanders in the second half but is rescued by the grand finale with the talented singing duet, Christina Tan and Ben Mingay. And massed dancing.

By Kate Herbert

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