I was never sucked into the Dirty Dancing hype when i was younger. This 80’s classic completely passed me by despite being rolled out on telly every bank holiday and having a number of ‘those scenes’ that you know about without ever actually sitting down to watch them! So when the Birmingham Hippodrome invited me along to see Dirty Dancing on Stage i figured it was about time to dust off my crimpers and finally sit down to watch Johnny and Baby dance it out.
For those of you (like me) who have been living under a rock, the story of Dirty Dancing sees Baby, a young woman (originally played by Jennifer Grey) visiting a sleepy resort in the mountains with her family for one last summer before joining the Peace Corps. Baby finds herself sucked into the underground dance culture of the resort staff and in a bid to help one of the entertainment staff and soon sparks begin to fly between her and Johnny Castle the snake hipped lothario dance instructor (originally played by Patrick Swayzee). Cue 90 minutes of steamy dance scenes, big hair and cheesy but oh so memorable one liners – that’s Dirty Dancing!
With it’s bright pink neon sign shining out over the streets of Birmingham, Dirty Dancing is a girl’s night waiting to happen, so I rounded up my best lady and we headed off for a night at the theatre to drool over Mr Castle and swoon away with a few glasses of wine!
Unlike the original film where i often found Baby and Johnny’s love story a little awkward in places, i was totally engrossed on stage. Jessie Hart and Lewis Kirk were so relatable they really brought the characters of Baby and Johnny to life, giving the story that extra care I felt the originally film lacked. Right from the start the show wowed with incredible dance routines and steamy interactions interspersed with comedic characters and connecting scenes to keep a well-rounded feel to the show. With classics such as ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘Do You Love Me’ ‘Hey Baby’ and the inevitable ‘Time Of My Life’ Dirty Dancing on stage is packed to the brim with fantastic tunes set to leave you bopping away in your seat all night! Matthew Colthart stole the show for me on the music front with the backing of the production’s live band, knocking out some serious tunes while the fantastic dance cast left us all amazed with quick flips and twists across the stage.
I found myself mesmerised by the twirling skirts of the girls and the impossibly long legs of Claire Rodgers (Penny Johnson) making Johnny Castle almost second in command when it came to drooling rights! With wolf whistles and giggles from the crowd during Johnny and Baby’s rainy day scene we weren’t disappointed in the chick flick department and Lewis Kirk really played the part well! I found myself caring a whole lot more about the characters than I did in the film with writer Eleanor Bergstein filling in gaps from the film and rounding out character’s stories effortlessly leaving the audience fully satisfied when the curtain closed. Accents were believable the use of projected backgrounds on the interactive set were a nice touch enabling director Sarah Tipple to capture the feel of the film perfectly. I’m not ashamed to say there were tears at the end that didn’t come when I watched the film (nobody puts baby in the corner!) and with hilarious performances from Kane Verrall (Neil Kellerman), Mark Faith (Mr Schumacher) and Georgina Castle (Lisa Houseman) I was chuckling away throughout!
Whether you’re a die-hard dirty dancing fan or are just looking for a different girly night out then you need to see this show! Eleanor, Sarah and the whole cast really did this classic proud…and yes, the dream team absolutely nailed ‘the lift’, phew!
I got the chance to quiz Jessie Hart and Lewis Kirk about their fitness routines, pre-show nerves and those steamy scenes we all know and love!
Did you feel pressure on the infamous lift?
Jessie – “Of course the lift was a huge part of rehearsals – but Glenn, the choreographer took me on a long journey and from day one gave me exercises and techniques to be able to nail it eventually! It’s always a scary moment as the audience know it’s coming and want to see it go really well – it’s just about connecting and focusing with Lewis, ignoring every other worry and in that moment doing what we’ve always practiced. Fingers crossed!“
Is it hard for you to recreate the anticipated chemistry on stage every night having only just started working together?
Jessie – “At first obviously it was a bit scary as it was like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you.. Now let’s get up close and personal!’ .. Diving straight in at deep end – but Lewis was so lovely and professional he made it so easy. It’s good to just laugh about it too, and don’t be afraid to go for it and look silly together. Breaks the ice and opens it up to be able to explore and play with it more. It is tricky too as the Johnny/Baby chemistry is so loved and theres a pressure to deliver to the audience that same electric feeling they loved in film.. But for me it’s just about reliving it fresh every night and getting into the moment when it happens.”
As the film is such a classic, did you feel like you needed to put your own spin on the story for your time on stage?
Jessie – “Yeah, as the film is SO well known – you do feel a certain kind of pressure to be the Baby that everyone wants to see. But the only way I try to deal with it is to just be as true to her as I can. She’s a lot like me in character, so I try and relate to her a lot personally and think how I would feel about things, and deal with the situations she does! This gives me a a real feeling and closeness to the character rather than trying to feel like I’m renacting an existing interpretation.”
Lewis – “The film is so popular that people really do want to see Patrick Swayze up there in front of them and obviously that’s not possible. So I try to give them the flavour of Patrick’s style in the film and give them an essence of what they came to love about his character, which I think is important, but then you have to put yourself into the role as well. You have to be able, as an Actor, to make sense of the text and put your own personality and emotions back into it. That’s what makes it real.”
I can imagine you have to train tough to get the strength and stamina needed for some of the moves on stage – did you have to change up your fitness and diet routine a lot before taking on the role as Johnny?
Lewis – “The stamina required for the role of Johnny is probably the biggest thing as the opening 20 mins of the show are pretty full on, but then you need to leave something in the tank for the finale as well. I had to work on my upper body strength and also my core and stability for the role. It’s one thing to lift a weight but another entirely to lift a moving person and hold them above your head. Your body works overtime trying to adjust to each other’s tiny little movements.”
The show must take it out of you – what do you eat before a performance to make sure you have the strength for all those lifts? Have you got a special dance training diet?
Jessie – “I did go on a bit of a set diet during rehearsals, making sure I ate really well, lots of protein to help build and repair my muscles during long, hard rehearsals! Now we’re in the show its a tough one to decide when is best to eat – not too soon so you’re hungry during show, not too late so that you feel full doing all those lifts and spins! I tend to try and eat a decent amount of protein + carbs around like 3/4 o clock. Pasta is always good as it fills you up and keeps you going throughout the show! And occasionally the thing you need when feeling tired for extra energy is just a bit of chocolate! Got to be done!”
Lewis – “The show is very physically demanding and you have to eat a healthy, balanced diet to stay on top of it. Plenty of water and keeping hydrated is key to keeping your focus and concentration throughout. For me I usually eat my proteins and a small amount of carbohydrates along with vegetables to get me through the show. I also then take in more protein after the show to speed up the recovery.”
Have you seen the stage show? Did it live up to your nostalgic expectations?
Tweet me @xameliax and let me know what you think! #DDonStage