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Full of passion and romance, heart-pounding music and sensationally sexy dancing!
The classic story of Baby and Johnny returns, following two blockbuster West End runs and two hit UK Tours, featuring the hit songs Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, Do You Love Me? and the heart stopping (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.
Thirty years after Eleanor Bergstein's classic story of a whirlwind holiday romance first took cinemas by storm, its now almost equally iconic stage adaptation is back on the road with an all-new cast and creative team. Directed by Federico Bellone, this new Dirty Dancing UK tour has been specially designed to adapt readily to differently sized stages, allowing it to visit more venues than ever before. This month, the smash-hit show stops off at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent and the Wolverhampton Grand before moving on to Coventry's Belgrade Theatre early in the New Year. We spoke to the Dirty Dancing On Tour team to find out more about how the magic is made.
“I think for the first time, we've gone for a very realistic look,” explains Federico Bellone. “Basically, we've taken the famous picture of the resort where they shot the movie and tried to theatricalise that here. We'll be going out to venues that were not able to house previous versions of the show, but it should still be spectacular. We have three revolves on stage, so it's quite intricate. We've also tried to make the pace even faster - without rushing through it, of course.”
“There's a huge pressure to get the balance right,” adds choreographer Gillian Bruce, “because everybody knows this show, so you have to look at the main ingredients and try to keep those, while also making it a little bit different. I was very careful with choosing the cast. The look had to be right, and the sexiness had to be right. I actually wanted to push that a little bit further than in the film, to make it even more ‘dirty’ - without becoming vulgar, obviously, and still making sure it was right for the era.”
These continual changes and reinventions - both large and small - are part of what makes every Dirty Dancing live experience feel special, even more than a decade after the show made its stage debut. Carlie Milner, who plays the unlucky Penny Johnson, has also starred in previous incarnations of the show, but is constantly inspired by the team around her to work through new approaches to the part.
“Of course everyone will have a different take on things,” she says, “and the people around you give you more information, which you just kind of absorb into your performance. It's been lovely to recreate the show with a new vision - your ideas do change over time, and my own personal take on it has definitely changed. I've found things in the story that I hadn't really thought about before. I loved the old version but I'm really looking forward to touring this one too.”
Joining more experienced cast members like Milner are the newcomers such as Lewis Griffiths and Katie Hartland, who lead the show as the iconic young couple Johnny and Baby.
“Stepping into Patrick [Swayze]'s shoes, I do feel like I'm a bit in his shadow, as anyone would, because he made the part completely his own,” Griffiths confesses. “I'm not trying to imitate him at all, but as Gillian said, we've all got to take parts of what's already in the film and make it work for us without replicating too much. This is definitely going to be Lewis Griffiths' Johnny Castle as opposed to Patrick Swayze's Johnny Castle.”
Hartland agrees. “I think for me the biggest challenge has been taking such an iconic film and trying to make it your own as much as you can. Especially with the dancing, because I'm not half as experienced and amazing as some of the others, so it's been a real thrill getting to dance like that and to be pushed in that way.”
Among the things that have made Dirty Dancing such a huge success is the fact that it straddles different theatrical genres. It isn't quite a conventional stage musical. Not only are the songs performed by a separate band rather than sung by the main cast members, but the style of the dancing and staging is also very different.
“Dirty Dancing is definitely, absolutely a play, but it's a play with a lot of music,” says director Bellone. “I think quite often when people go to see the show for the first time, they expect it to be a musical and are surprised when the cast don't sing. I first went to see it back in 2007, I think it was, and at the time I thought that they should sing more. But when I met Eleanor Bergstein, she explained to me the reasons why she was absolutely against that, and I had to accept that she was perfectly right.”
“It's quite a difficult show to choreograph because it's all couple work,” says choreographer Bruce. “I think sometimes it can get so busy that the audience doesn't really know where to look. I've tried to give more focus to the numbers and allow the audience to enjoy everything without being forced to just look at one thing at a time.”
“That's why a lot of people will say that the musical numbers are so tricky to get right,” adds Bellone. “They're not meant to look like the numbers in a typical musical, but at the same time, they still have to be beautiful. You have to focus on specific effects. On film it's much easier because you can use close-ups and focus in on details, but on stage, you have all these people there and the audience can look anywhere they want to.”
This distinctive format also puts additional pressure on the cast members, requiring everyone to be on top form from both dramatic and physical standpoints. Add to this the fact that, with Dirty Dancing being such a huge, worldwide phenomenon, the expectations of audiences across the country are enormous.
“It's quite rare to have something that's so heavy both in terms of the dance and the character aspects,” says Milner. “Physically this version is very demanding and there's a lot going on. You want to make sure you do it correctly, but there's only so much time, and that in itself is quite difficult for a performer. From a character point of view, it's also quite difficult. Obviously for me, Penny goes through a lot of trauma, and so I have to find ways to relate with all of the complex emotions she experiences.”
“I consider myself an actor rather than a dancer,” says Griffiths, “and while I don't think there's anything that I can't learn and get into, it’s been challenging being in a show involving so much dancing. Johnny's character is so completely in his comfort zone in the dance studio, leading and teaching in his Cuban heels, so I'm having to find ways of taking Lewis' insecurities and turning them into Johnny's strengths.”
“All the characters are going through their own stories,” says Milner, “but they're also all intertwined, so it's all about trying to keep that link and that continuity running through the show, while also bringing out your character's own personal journey. So yeah, it's hard!”
The rehearsal process may be long and challenging, demanding absolute dedication from the team, but as things begin to fall into place, every one of them agrees that the time and energy they've poured in has been well worth it.
“The casting for this show is unbelievable,” says Griffiths. “When I got the role of Johnny, it was amazing, but it felt a bit like being at the bottom of a very large mountain. I'm really thankful that, with the help of these two and all the crew and creatives, I'm already halfway up that mountain, and once we get to the top I think it's gonna be a hell of a show. I'm really honoured to be a part of that.”
Dirty Dancing shows at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, from Mon 30 January to Sat 4 February; and the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, from Mon 29 May to Sat 3 June.
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