Theatre review: Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing the musical leaves you uplifted
Dirty Dancing the musical leaves you uplifted
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What a strange tale is Dirty Dancing, the smash-hit 1987 film now – 30 years on – touring the UK in this stage version directed by Federico Bellone. Set in a mountain resort in the Catskills in the summer of 1963, it’s a tale about class, set against the backdrop of the Kennedy presidency and the rising civil rights movement; if you want a brief forewarning of the Trump revolution, 50 years ahead, listen to the speech given by our gorgeous working-class hero Johnny when he first hears that Baby, the liberal doctor’s daughter he’s fallen in love with, plans to march for black civil rights. “I don’t see anyone marching for my rights,” he says. “My brother’s unemployed, what about his rights?”

Playhouse, Edinburgh ***

For the most part, though, Dirty Dancing is a story about the liberating power of dance, and of young love across social boundaries. Johnny is an inspired dance teacher, Baby – really called Frances – wants to learn. And if this touring version of the story, starring Lewis Griffiths as Johnny is often slightly shambolic in its efforts to translate the film to the stage – with the set whirling around at warp speed, and constant fades to black between short scenes – there’s an intense sexual sweetness in the central love story, and a passion and joy in the dance sequences, that more than compensates. The ladies in the audience whoop with delight at the odd glimpse of Johnny’s rippling muscles; and whether we’re feeling nostalgic for 1987, or for 1963, when all things briefly seemed possible, we head out into the night feeling strangely uplifted, and perhaps even happy.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Playhouse, Edinburgh, today, and King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 19-24 June.