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York
Dirty Dancing In York
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
Kira Malou, Michael O'Reilly and Simone Covele. Photo Alistair Muir
Based on the iconic 1987 movie, the 2006 showtime version of Dirty Dancing broke all West End box office records and its popularity endures. Subtitled The Classic Story on Stage, this revival from director Federico Bellone, currently playing to packed houses, was received rapturously in York.

For anybody on the planet who does not know the story, those few who have not seen the wonderful original starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, the year is 1963 and we’re at Camp Kellerman, an upmarket holiday experience for rich Americans - who in those days apparently still conducted themselves with decorum and restraint, playing rounds of golf, taking dancing lessons and singing patriotic songs round the camp fire for pleasure.

The staff, mostly waiters and dancers, seem to be having loads of fun of a rather naughtier kind, which is all well and good as long as they share it out among themselves. Trouble is wide-eyed young Baby Houseman, daughter of a society doctor, stumbles into their midst and tumbles into the arms of Johnny Castle, the cock of the walk, the king of the dance floor. Unfortunately, for both of them, he was born the wrong side of the tracks.

But the boy-meets-girl story, trite by modern standards, involving old staples like unwanted pregnancy and predictable misunderstandings, is really not what this show is about. It’s the music, glorious pre-Beatles stuff, mostly up-tempo sophisticated late Rock’n’Roll meets early Soul, that gets the heart pounding - and above all it’s the dancing, more raunchily expressive than ever as choreographed by the greatly experienced Gillian Bruce, that we come to see. Yes, there are some serious themes, abortion, racism, snobbery, social inequality, international responsibility, but they are touched upon ever so lightly.

Roberto Comotti’s ingenious set makes use of all the modern film projection techniques that we are now getting used to and is a delight in itself, whizzing and whirling us round the camp, upstairs and downstairs in various chambers, under sunny skies or in the pouring rain. There is an amazing scene in the middle of a lake that has to be seen to be believed.

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Michael O’Reilly, in his first major professional role, might have been born to play hunky Johnny. Unusually graceful and sure-footed for one so tall, clearly this actor will go a long way in theatre. Fresh from playing the lead role in a new series of School Hacks, Kira Malou made a remarkably lovely and dynamic Baby, falling in love as she learns to dance.

It seems a little uncharitable to mention that in terms of production standards there were a few wonky bits at times, a few occasions that curtains parted exposing actors waiting to come on. Yet the fact that proceedings came to a halt for a long five minutes in the second half has to be mentioned by any objective reviewer. Doubtless it won’t happen again. It didn’t spoil the audience’s pleasure and, actually added a sense of tension, holding back the outcome, precisely at the point that Johnny and Baby were in the depths of despair.

The huge supporting cast really deserve special individual mention but equally it would seem a little unkind to the many to single out the few. Let it suffice to say, they are all of the highest calibre.

It is hardly a revelation to say that the show culminates in pure life-affirming joy as Johnny and Baby bring everything and everybody together in a big all-singing, all-dancing Hollywood ending right out of a 1930's Busby Berkeley extravaganza. Dancing has changed a bit since his day, however.

Many things in fact have changed in the thirty or so years that Dirty Dancing has been part of our consciousness. It’s popularity endures and clearly younger people are as enamoured of it as were their parents.

Dirty Dancing, The Classic Story On Stage is at York Grand Opera House until 13th October.

Dirty Dancing In York, 10th October 2018, 12:58 PM