I was fifteen when Dirty Dancing came to the UK cinemas (October 1987). I remember a friend saying she’d seen it and loved it but I’d never heard of it and, with no social media around, I don’t remember there being much hype.
It was a few years later when I first saw it on video and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered with it sooner. I absolutely loved it. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. I own the DVD, more recently replaced by the twentieth anniversary edition on Blu-ray, and also the soundtrack on CD (which is on in the background as I write this).
Yesterday, I took my daughter to see the stage version in Leeds and it was fabulous. We didn’t have the best seats as I only booked tickets a few weeks ago, but we still really enjoyed it.
We’d seen Strictly Ballroom a few years ago and it was very close to the film so I was interested in seeing how close the Dirty Dancing adaptation would be. Much of the dialogue was exactly the same, and most of the songs were there, although some were significantly shortened and a couple were instrumental rather than lyrics. I had one big disappointment here: ‘She’s Like The Wind’ was instrumental only. For me, that song is iconic to the film, especially as it is sung by Patrick Swayze, but perhaps that’s a reason why it wasn’t included. It was disappointing not to hear it, though.
There were new songs and new scenes. With a film I know and love so well, it’s a little weird seeing new parts.
Some certainly added value; particularly those around character development for Baby, Johnny and Baby’s parents.
Some added more to the political situation in the USA at the time. It was 1963 and a lot was changing there, particularly regarding civil rights. Part of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (which actually happened during the time the film was set) was included in a new campfire scene, culminating in the singing of ‘We Shall Overcome’. And there was more made of Neil Kellerman going on his freedom ride and his motivations around this. I personally felt that these scenes disrupted the story (sorry) and actually made Neil into a confusing character when he didn’t need to be anything more than the slightly creepy arrogant relation to Max Kellerman that he is in the film. But perhaps someone not so familiar with the film (is there such a person?) might disagree.
Also, I didn’t understand the character of Tito Suarez. In the film, he’s the conductor for the house band and he performs a brief tap-dancing routine with Max Kellerman. Clearly, from the brief conversation they have during the finale concert, they’re very good friends too. However, in the musical, Tito’s role seems to change and he’s giving advice to Neil and Johnny but there’s no set-up of their relationship to understand why he’s suddenly the advisor, as well as a conductor and a singer. Hmm.
Oh, and don’t get me started on Mr Schumacher becoming some sort of comedy magician instead of one half of a doddery old couple stealing wallets.
These were small points, though. What a delight to hear the film’s two most iconic lines:
“I carried a watermelon”
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”
Absolute classics! Johnny had to pause for a very loud audience reaction after his line!
The sets were stunning and the many set changes were brilliantly handled. I was particularly impressed with how they achieved the scene dancing on the log over the chasm and the practice lifts in the water. As for the dancing, it was superb throughout. And that final lift? Incredible.
So, whilst I have a few niggles here and there – probably because of my love for the film exactly how it is – this really was a wonderful show and I would highly recommend anyone to go and see it. You really will have the time of your life!
And whilst Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey can never be replaced as Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman, the leads in this show were very impressive. A huge congratulations to all the cast.
And you can get a Johnny teddy bear, complete with leather jacket and sunglasses. How cute is that?