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“Dirty dancing” is a dance metaphor for, of course, sex. The new stage musical (much along the lines of the 1987 movie) begins vividly by parsing the metaphor’s main ingredients. Man and woman come together; she slowly sweeps a hand up his chest; their pelvises join and move together; her spine arches way back; and her legs part, spectacularly.
This stage show, which opened in Australia in 2004 and has achieved a record- breaking West End advance, takes the metaphor very seriously throughout most of Act One. Dirty-type dancing is contrasted with vivid accounts of rumba, foxtrot, quickstep, tango, and waltz – all patently the sexually romantic dances of yesteryear.
We can believe here that DD is part of what expands the consciousness of our serious 17-year-old heroine, Baby, along with news of Martin Luther King. For Dirty Dancing isn’t just about sex and dance, it’s about good behaviour too. There’s a late-teens Daisy Pulls It Off plot line about helping others that makes most of Act Two corny. But Act One is a gorgeous feast of dance, and you see Baby learning important details from her hunky dance instructor Johnny: to hit the second beat in the bar, how to keep her centre firm and how to bring off lifts. (When they go to bed, it’s an anti-climax.)
The show, cramped on the Aldwych stage, would do yet better if it changed in big structural ways. At the end, we need the plot and the room to fade away while dance lets rip in this great summer of love. The teenage/feminine side of me says that, though Josef Brown as Johnny has dance flair and a great body, he’s not a dreamboat, and his American accent is faux and pinched. Georgina Rich, however, is a near-ideal Baby, who carries both the dancing and the story, and makes the dialogue spontaneous. Elsewhere the talk sounds more artificially Hollywood than in the film.
“(I’ve had) Had The Time of My Life” remains one of the most appealingly feelgood songs of recent decades. The whole company dance well. You just wish the production had the imagination to give us dirty dancing in excelsis. ★★★★☆
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