If it’s thought-provoking drama you’re after, look away now. If, however, you’re in the market for a feelgood summer fable packed with classic ’60s pop tunes, day-glo colours and more bump 'n' grind than you can shake a sweat-soaked unitard at, make a bee-line for the Piccadilly Theatre pronto.
Closely based on the cult ’80s chick flick starring Patrick Swayze, Dirty Dancing on stage has been a rock-solid generator of bums-on-seats ever since its initial West End run began in 2006. The current production of the early '60s-set show has planted its pumps in the Piccadilly following a hit UK tour, and delivers a more satisfying experience than such a featherlight show really has a right to.
Credit for that goes in large part to its three stars, Jill Winternitz, Paul-Michael Jones and Charlotte Gooch, who add as much weight to their broadly-drawn characters as they can support.
Californian Winternitz's previous form is mostly in classical theatre. Here, she's pretty, cute and spunky as Baby Houseman, the teenage girl who visits an upscale holiday resort in New York’s Catskills with her well-to-do folks and stumbles on a raunchy dance clique among the hotel staff.
Jones makes a lean, handsome and likeable Swayze substitute as Johnny Castle, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks dance instructor who initiates Baby into the ways of the 'dirty boogie' both on and off the dance floor.
As appealing a couple as Winternitz and Jones make, the stage lights up when Gooch hits her marks as Johnny’s dance partner Penny. Luminous, lissome, with legs that go up to John O' Groats, she’s superglue to the eyes and a living embodiment of West End glam.
The show was adapted for the stage by the film’s screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein. As such, all your favourite 'bits' are present and correct, from watermelon-totage to de-cornering Baby to Having The Time Of Your Life. Sarah Tipple’s crisp, unfussy production makes judicious use of digital projection to recreate classic movie scenes, including the montage in which Johnny and Baby get their knickers in a twist practising a tricky overhead lift.
A seven-piece band positioned over the stage and a solid supporting cast drive things along nicely and the classic early ’60s R&B and doo-wop hits that periodically blast out of the PA are a joy to hear.
OK, so it's a little on the lean side dramatically, but we haven't come for that. The clue to Dirty Dancing’s success is in the title. Hoofing’s what this show’s about, and it’s terrific.
Gooch is fresh from a knockout turn in the West End’s Top Hat, and Jones has represented England in the international Latin American and Ballroom Dancing championships. There's enough crotch-pumping raunch-o-rama to satisfy even the drooliest dance-buff, and the principals do a bang-up job with Kate Champion’s tight choreography.
It all adds up to a good-natured night of high-energy camp that's totally undemanding and a shoe-in for the girls-night-out posse. Just remember to have your earplugs ready for the shriek that goes up when Johnny drops his big zinger.