I see a lot of theatrical shows; it’s my job after all. And mindful of the hard work that goes into every production I always try to find something positive to say, even when I haven’t particularly enjoyed a show.
But I also have to bear in mind that people pay a lot of hard earned cash to see these shows, and so it is also my job not to over egg the pudding and suggest something is great when in fact it is mediocre.
Honestly, I can count on one, maybe two hands, the shows that really stand out as spectacular.
Last night’s Dirty Dancing at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury is one of them.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the evening. I saw the stage show in Oxford last year and wasn’t enamoured by it, in fact I was bored, and only came to life for the final iconic lift scene, which was ruined when usherettes rushed down the aisle to stop people taking photographs.
Prior to the new version of the show coming to the Waterside I got lots of promotional information saying it had been re imagined by Wizard Productions Italy with a sexy approach and new set.
But could a show change THAT much?
Well, yes, it seems it can, because from the first minutes this was a different show – and yet the same story. The set – which was so minimal and disappointing in Oxford – is stunning, colourful, well oiled (although it creaked at times!) and imaginative. And the performance is certainly very sexy.
The story is the familiar one we all know and love, telling the love story of Johnny and Baby at an American summer camp in the early Sixties. I have to admit to tearing up towards the end when the strains of She’s Like the Wind (written by the late Patrick Swayze, who played Johnny in the hit movie) drifted around the auditorium, as it brought to mind the exquisite talent, energy and performance of Swayze.
But Lewis Griffiths, in the role of Johnny, is perfectly cast. He has the body, the moves and the strength to pull it off – and this talented actor was also in Jersey Boys, one of my other all-time favourite stage shows. He partners first with the exquisite and perfectly toned Carlie Milner in the role of Penny, and then later with Katie Hartland as Baby. As a trained dancer it must be hard to pretend you cannot dance, but Katie executes this well in the first half of the show, before moving into the scenes where she can really show off her talent.
All the familiar scenes from the film are here: balancing on the log, practising the lift in the water, sister Lisa’s horrendous singing in the talent contest – a fabulous performance by Lizzie Ottley that earned huge applause from the audience.
The finale of course was the ultimate and brilliant ending to a fabulous night, and after Johnny warned not to put Baby in the corner, he took her in his arms to produce that tingling dance routine that had the audience on its feet with a very well deserved standing ovation.
Praise is due to all concerned with this production: the cast of talented dancers, actors and singers, the musicians, the set designer, the stage hands, director, producer and the entire crew.
Dirty Dancing is on at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre now until Saturday (September 24). Tickets from £12.50. Box office 0844 871 7607.