Kira Malou  as Baby and Michael O'Reilly as Johnny. Pictures: Mark Senior

Dirty Dancing

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


There is a slim possibility that somewhere on the planet, there is someone who has never heard of Dirty Dancing, but I can imagine that it would be a long hard search to find them.

The 1987 film, with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, went on to gross a surprising £164m for its producers. Its legacy seems now to have been reduced to just a handful of iconic qualities that have earned this story of love from different sides of the tracks, a solid place in pop culture.

So for that one person here is the plot. While vacationing with her parents at a summer resort, a young girl, Frances meets Johnny, the resident rebellious dance instructor. As she falls helplessly under his spell, he literally lifts her into woman hood with a quick Rumba and a Salsa. Her father opposes their steamy relationship until the final ten minutes, when the world is put to rights and we all dance out into the finale.

The stage version does not entirely follow the film and the few amends to the plot and its political correctness are perhaps questionable, but they matter not one bit to the adoring audience. In fact the stage production almost expects you to know the plot and the film, as it spends only a short few moments establishing the location before heading into the dance routines. 

Michael O'Reilly might seem to have had big shoes to fill taking on the role of Johnny Castle, played in the film by the late Patrick Swayze, but in truth as long as he acquitted himself well enough, had the physique and could be heard, then the audience again would have been happy. Fortunately Mr O’Reilly was more than up to the task, looking more like Superman and was more than capable of sending, the mostly female audience into fits of screams of delight when exhibiting a fair amount of his beach ready body. 


Michael O'Reilly with Carlie Milner as Penny

Kira Malou is excellent as Frances, AKA Baby. Looking every bit like the film's actress Jennifer Grey, she was perfect in the role and diminutive enough to be made airborne at all the appropriate times. As good as her moves were, it's Carlie Milner as Penny Johnson who is outstanding with her dance skills, whilst performing several featured routines. Her dance threesome with Malou and O’Reilly, were they are learning the famous finale routine was sexily choreographed, drawing more cheers from the audience.

Excellent support performances too were from Lizzie Ottley in the role of Lisa, Baby’s sister, missing all the notes in all the right places. Colin Charles as Tito Suarez, who also managed to get bare chested and sing his heart out. Amber Silver Edwards as Elizabeth added some real soul into the mix and the polished ensemble dance routines by choreographer Austin Wilks and assisted by Carrie Milner were spectacular.

In the end though the true high spots come down to just a few simple phrases and one famous routine that set the house alight. Entering via the auditorium Johnny's final stage entrance arrives and the audience are well ahead of his line ‘nobody puts Baby in a corner' and instantly the place erupts. It’s followed by that iconic lift and the finale dance routine, set to Time of My Life and for a few minutes everything stands still and the real world is forgotten.

In conclusion it matters not if this is not a true tribute to the film. It’s had a mild awakening for a modern audience but it has everything you could want. Classic songs, fantastic ensemble dance numbers, boy girl romance, all packed into an evening of solid entertainment and nostalgic joy.

 To 16-10-21 

Jeff Grant


Index page Alex Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre