Friday, 9 January 2009

Nobody puts Baby in a Corner

I somehow managed to miss Dirty Dancing when it came out. What can I say? I was in my final year at university, and it seemed like a teenybopper romance film that wouldn't appeal to me. It was several years later when I worked with someone who was obsessed by it that it dawned on me that somehow an iconic moment in cinema history had passed me by. It still wasn't enough to get me to watch it though, as it's certainly not my husband's kind of film (Crap scifi and slasher/gore are more his thing), so I had it down as One To Watch With The Girls, which of course meant I never got round to it. I nearly saw it a few years ago when my salsa teacher recommended it to help us practise our moves. I duly borrowed it from a friend who is nigh word perfect on the script, and it sat on the side by the tv unwatched for weeks because I didn't have time, and in the end I gave it back to my friend without having seen it as I had visions of one of the children spilling juice on it.

When I was researching Strictly Love though, I bought a whole load of dance movies, Grease, Fame, Strictly Ballroom, and Dirty Dancing. Now was surely the time to make up for this gap in my film education.

I have to say I was completely taken by surprise by the film. I thought it would be a very sappy teen romance that I could happily have shown the children, and was gobsmacked to discover the storyline features abortion. (I still haven't let the kids watch it). I'm not a huge Patrick Swayze fan, and the name "Baby" makes me puke, but actually, though you do think this is a summer romance that is never going to last, there is a lot to like in this film. The dancing is fabulous of course, but I also do like the character of Baby who stays to true to her principles even though it costs her dear. It is also quite interesting about prejudice and people taking certain situations for granted.

So... there's a lot more to it then I imagined, and of course it also has that brilliant dance scene at the end when Baby finally manages the Lift. As a semi ironic joke I dedicated Strictly Love to my husband with the words, I owe it all to you, which my mother took seriously, having never seen the film. She thought it was a lovely sentiment, and after giving it consideration and taking away the cynical head which says Time of my Life is pure tack, I think I agree. Dirty Dancing is all about people loving one another and supporting each other whatever life throws at them. And as a romantic novelist, how can I gainsay that?

So when I was kindly offered free tickets to go and see Dirty Dancing the Musical by the very kind people at Arthur Leone pr company, I was delighted to take them up on the offer. Besides, it's not EVERY day someone gives me some free theatre tickets (and having just spent a small fortune on Oliver! tickets, such generosity is certainly not to be sniffed at in these credit crunch times...) Obviously I couldn't take my other half who'd be deeply unappreciative, so I asked my Dirty Dancing loving friend along instead, which came in rather handy as she remembered more of the plot then I did.

Now I'd love to say that Dirty Dancing the Musical was as much fun as say, Mamma Mia! which I've seen twice, but unfortunately I don't really think it is. For a start the script is slavishly close to the film (according to the DDLF anyway), whereas the film and stage show of Mamma Mia! are rightly two very different beasts.

The film (and stage show) starts with Baby and her family en route to a holiday camp. The film starts with them in a car, listening to music, and on stage, this has been converted to a stage car with scenery running behind it. Hmm... That just didn't work for me. Neither did most of the set, which revolved, and had bits popping out of the floor in a manner I found most distracting. Apart from worrying everytime the dancers were dancing on the revolving floor, I kept losing track of who was saying what and where because my eye was caught by some inappropriate bit of scenery going up and down for no apparent reason.

I also had a huge problem with the chemistry between the leads, in that for me there wasn' any. (And here I'm going to be horribly vague, as we forgot to buy a programme so I am not sure of anyone's names.) When Johnny danced with Penny the world lit up, but when he danced with Baby (and yes of course at the beginning she can't dance), I just didn't feel there was any chemistry at all.

Also oddly enough, for a musical about dancing, there didn't seem to be nearly enough. And for a stage show that was meant to be a musical, there wasn't enough singing.

I don't think this is the actors fault, but a fault of the show itself, which is trying to replicate the movie so accurately (maybe rightly - perhaps this is what Dirty Dancing fans want, although my DDLF was underwhelmed. Mind you, she did say it was partly because Johnny was too "clean".) that it forgets to be a musical.

Having said all that, the dancing when it happened was stunning. And the end of the show was really spectacular. In fact, I could have done with lots more of Billy's singing (the actor playing him had an AMAZING voice) and everyone dancing and less of the silly sets, and people aimlessly wandering on and off just because that's what happens in the film.

There also was a fantastic moment right at the end when everyone was anticipating Johnny's return and he suddenly burst through the audience uttering the iconic line, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner", which clearly all the proper Dirty Dancing fans were waiting for as the theatre exploded. And then so did the stage. Suddenly it was rocking with life, and I felt like I was watching a completely different show. The Lift of course was brilliant, and again you could tell the DD fans were gagging for it. And the encore was also great, leaving me wishing that the whole show had had as much energy. (I dunno, maybe the cast were too worried by the revolving turntable to dance their hearts out earlier).

So... An enjoyable evening. Probably a must if you're a Dirty Dancing fan. But was it as good as the film? No I don't think so...