Blue chip title Dirty Dancing twirls back into town in a production that is surely resistant to help or hindrance from this, or any other, reviewer.
With the title as the star attraction, producers John Frost and partners have been able to take a chance on two relative unknowns as the leads, and this may be the best feature of this tenth anniversary tour.
Kirby Burgess is a wonder as lead character Baby, a burgeoning young woman who sees the changing world of 1963 through rose tinted glasses. Balancing a wide-eyed countenance with a supremely fit and strong physique, Burgess’ dance talents see her convincingly tell the story of Baby’s rapid rise as dance partner and young lover. Burgess’ acting skill and commitment to the role help her to rise above the material to create an endearing heroine whose charms are from cloying.
Kurt Phelan is a terrific dancer, especially when paired with knockout dancer Maddie Peat (as Penny Johnson). A little too young and sweet faced to be a dangerous Johnny, Phelan nonetheless performs with energy and flair to make the storyline as convincing as possible.
The show is now well established as a kind of play with songs, but given that all other elements match traditional music theatre presentations, the absence of singing from the characters is still frustrating and underwhelming. Baby needs an I wish song, rather than a few seconds listening to the radio and dreaming about dancing couples, her father needs a reflective ballad, her parents need a proper duet, and, most of all, the climactic dance would contain so much more punch if Baby and Johnny were singing “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”
The frustration at the lack of singing from the characters is compounded by the presence of strong music theatre talents in the roles. Adam Murphy, as Baby’s saintly father Jake Houseman, is an excellent music theatre singer. Teagan Wouters, playing Baby’s older sister Lisa Houseman, at least gets to do daffy comic number “Lisa’s Hula,” but her sensational belt is nowhere to be heard.
Of the background songs performed by the supporting players, Mark Vincent soars with “In The Still Of The Night” and “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life;” a full blown music theatre role for Mark Vincent is highly anticipated.
The featherlight premise for Eleanor Bergstein’s book achieves a degree of drive in act one, as Baby learns to dance and falls in love, but almost blows away in act two as the story quickly runs out of narrative. Despite a fleeting reference to current events, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the whole affair is entirely superficial. It attempts to cover this with a breezily rapid pace, as if the audience will not realise that nothing much is happening if the projected scenery (by Jon Driscoll) and gorgeous costumes (by Jennifer Irwin) change every minute or so.
As a representation of a film on stage, the video screens and projections create quite a grandly immersive world that fills the space effectively. The sequence where Baby and Johnny rehearse on a log, in a grassy field and in the water includes a few amusing moments, but when the main laughs come from enjoyment of the scenic and lighting effects there is something wrong.
Taken for what it is, Dirty Dancing is harmless fun, which is sure to be enjoyed by fans of the movie looking for a good night out. It just seems a shame to have all those resources expended on the revival of a derivative, overly simplistic show.
Dirty Dancing plays at Princess Theatre, Melbourne
Photos: Jeff Busby