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Review: More dancing than dirty – and that’s just fine

Review: More dancing than dirty – and that’s just fine

Dirty Dancing has a cult following in many countries including South Africa. Good thing, then, that the stage production is faithful enough to the film to satisfy even the diehard fans, while offering some sizzling dance talent on stage. By LESLEY STONES.

It’s been a long time coming, but the film that set dance floors alight in 1987 has finally made it to the local stage.

Dirty Dancing still has the heat to set the stage on fire, although the raunchy moves are no longer dirty by today’s standards – just delightful.

The film script was created by Eleanor Bergstein, who also reworked it for the stage, so it’s remained true enough to the original to please its legions of devoted fans. There are some new scenes and new songs too, and while the massive number of scenes gives the show a very “stagey” feel, it flows well despite numerous quick set changes.

The dancing is obviously the highlight, and the production is bursting with sexy dancers doing imaginative and raunchy moves around the main couple.

Choreographer Kate Champion has devised a red-hot show, and Mila de Biaggi as dance teacher Penny absolutely sizzles. She’s got to be the sexiest dancer I’ve seen, and when she dances with Gareth Bailey, who stars as dance instructor Johnny, their moves are utterly mesmerising. 

Some of the cast, including De Biaggi, are clearly far stronger dancers than actors, but that’s forgivable, because I’d rather see brilliant dancing with a few wooden moments in between than see perfectly believable actors who can’t pull those incredible dance moves.

Bryony Whitfield takes the lead role of Baby, the earnest young teenager who sets out to save the world but loses her heart to Johnny. Whitfield also has her strident moments, but overall she’s excellent as the clunky teenager who learns to tap into her inner sexiness.

The scenery is magnificent, with sliding panels that rearrange to create different settings and a giant screen where projected images of a lake or a holiday resort make an amazingly realistic background. 

The costumes are gorgeous too, with some delightful 1960s creations and timeless shimmering outfits that emphasise the slinky seductiveness of the moves.

There’s some fine singing too, plus a lovely dose of bad singing from Nadia Beukes as Lisa when she auditions for the talent show. Mark Rayment and Kate Normington as Baby’s mum and dad also give lovely performances.

The plot delivers a decent dose of social commentary, as it takes place in 1963 during civil liberty uprisings in the US, when the sheltered lives of rich whites were beginning to crack as some of the younger generation rebelled. There’s a smattering of spunky dialogue to add a few laughs amid more serious moments as Baby falls for the dancer from the wrong side of the tracks.

It was the end of an era as well as the end of a childhood, which adds nice meat around the spectacular movements. The soundtrack from the era is wonderfully nostalgic, and a live band sitting high up on the stage pounds out some favourites including the highlight “Time Of My Life.”

The film became a worldwide hit and still ranks as one of the greatest dance movies ever made, with the soundtrack selling more than 39 million copies.

Loads of people in the audience knew the film intimately, clapping and cheering in anticipation as some scenes began. I saved my cheers for the end, where in true American style, everything works out fine and dandy, and we all go home with a song in our hearts and a twinkle in our toes. DM

Dirty Dancing runs at Montecasino until January 13, then moves to Cape Town Artscape from January 18. 

Photography: Pat Bromilow Downing


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