Review: Dirty Dancing
The familiar story of one young woman’s path to maturity is an invitation for the audience to regress into childhood
Roseanna Fascona as Baby, and Gareth Bailey as Johnny Castle
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
Dirty Dancing, the 1987 coming-of-age movie and cultural phenomenon, is the story of one young woman’s path to maturity. She arrives to Kellerman’s family resort in the summer of 1963 as a besotted daddy’s girl, answering to the name “Baby”, but leaves – several hip-swivelling montage sequences later – as an independent, grown woman who has scored her dance instructor and mastered the merengue.
For the audience of the 2004 stage version, who still whoop loudly at the first sight of misunderstood bad-boy mambo instructor Johnny Castle, wolf-whistle during his more pensive, shirtless moments, and giggle with guilty pleasure through She’s Like the Wind, something like a reverse journey takes place. We are essentially regressing into childhood video rentals, the stirrings of that summer of 1987, the time of our lives.
Like the partners in a rumba, the show and the audience meet in the middle and follow basic steps. The production recreates all the key sequences, which have become as familiar as those of a folk tale, but ups the dance quotient, barking barely necessary dialogue over an energetically choreographed string of 1960s hits and 1980s ballads.
It is more directly emulative in its casting, assigning Roseanna Fascona, elfin and curly-haired, to Baby, and Gareth Bailey to Johnny. Like his exquisite regular dance partner, Claire Rogers, Bailey is as tall as a Redwood and as evenly tanned as an Abercrombie employee. He may not displace the movie’s original star in our minds, but he isn’t supposed to: nobody puts Swayze in a corner.
The show’s more progressive aspects – civil-rights movement backdrop, the hypocrisies of “clean-cut” college boys landing girls in backstreet abortions – aren’t nearly as focused as its curious class fantasy, where well-to-do women scoop up “wild” lovers from the lower social rungs. At least Johnny has the good sense to object. “They were using me,” he says, lips pursed and pants tight, of the women who made him a mere sexual object, although the production barely finds more convincing use of him.
The show is most enjoyable at its most self-aware. For an otherwise unstageable sequence, in which the duo practise their lifts in a lake, director Sarah Tipple submerges Frascona and Bailey in an adorably naff watery video projection, from which they emerge, heads back and gasping each time. The dancing may be lasciviously suggestive, the vertical expressions of horizontal desires, but such moments remind you that Dirty Dancing has always been something much cleaner. Until July 26