THE Phenomenon that is Dirty Dancing comes to the Hippodrome for an extended run next month after breaking box office records as it sweeps its way around the country.

Roger Clarke has been talking to producer Karl Sydow about the show and the film that made household names of Jennifer Grey, daughter of Oscar winner Joel Grey, and ballet trained actor, Patrick Swayze, seen above in an iconic still from the movie


LOOK at all the evidence and Dirty Dancing was a low budget chick-flick which should have fluttered almost unnoticed around the cinemas, had a garish cover on video release a few days later and then disappeared without a trace.

It had a script that had been shelved by MGM and then turned down by every film studio in the US.

It was only the second script of screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein and it had as director, Emile Ardolino, who had produced profiles of dancers and choreographers for public broadcast television and, although he won the 1983 Oscar for best documentary with He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing, a biopic of former American ballet star Jacques d'Amboise, he had never directed or worked on a feature film.

The film had only one recognisable star, the late Jerry Orbach, who was an established Broadway musical theatre performer – his last role, incidentally, up to his death from cancer in 2004, was as Detective Lennie Briscoe in TV's Law & Order.

The only studio willing to take it on was the newly formed film making arm of leading independent video distribution company Vestron. It was their first feature film.

The average film budget back in 1987 was $12 million. Dirty dancing with an inexperienced writer, a director who had never made a feature film and a new studio also making its first film had a budget of $5 million.

It had all the ingredients for a well-roasted turkey with all the trimmings, a guaranteed flop, except for one thing – the public liked it and continued to like it year after year.

It had mixed reviews but became one of the top grossing films of 1987 taking $170 million worldwide and was the No 1 video rental the following year. It was the first video to sell more than one million units, and DVD sales run at more than a million sales a year.

Jill Winternitz as Baby Houseman and Paul-Michael Jones as Johnny. Picture: Alastair Muir

Bergstein tuned the film into a stage musical in 2004 and the show is now on its first UK tour  . . .with the  the producers probably looking wistfully at that initial $5 million budget.

Producer of the touring production, Karl Sydow said: “The American tour cost $12 million to mount, more than twice what the film costs were, and the London show cost £4.25 million ($6.6 million) to stage and the touring production will be more, £5 million or so ($7.8 million).

"The problem you face on tour is that you have to move the show around but you still have to deliver everything people expect. You cannot compromise on quality; you still have to deliver.

“The tour is actually more expensive because not only do you have to deliver everything, you then have to pick it up, put it in trucks and move it on and and that costs money. We take advantage of modern technology. LED screens and video walls can create a scenic environment. They can deliver a world and they are very advanced but they are still very expensive.”

Sydow sees Dirty Dancing a not just a film but a social landmark. It made men who wanted to dance or learn to to dance cool.

 “Patrick Swayze in this film liberated a lot of guys who wanted to dance but couldn't tell anybody because they didn't want to be seen as a cissy. Patrick Swayze is butch and in this film he beats up all the bad guys. He's a tough character, he's the cool guy, the James Dean, the Marlon Brando, he walks in in black leather and he can take anyone in the place – and what did he want to do, he wanted to dance.”

Swayze started as a dancer and completed his training with the Harkness Ballet and Joffrey ballet schools New York.

Sydow said: “His mother Patsy had a dance school in Texas and he started there. His mother was a courageous woman. Debbie Allen, who went on to do Fame, told me about how as a young black girl she was taken in and given dance lessons by Patrick Swayze's mother and went on to a career. Patsy gave dance lessons to a little black girl in Texas and that could be dangerous.”

So why does a low budget 25-year-old film, set in a period 50 years ago still set pulses racing and generate so much interest and excitement?

“The story”, says Sydow, “It is just a true story that touched people.

Paul-Michael Jones in action

"There is an extraordinary convergence of talent. Emile Ardolino, the director and Kenny Ortega the choreographer were an amazingly powerful creative team, they were given the script by Eleanor and shaped it as a team, picking up a brilliant score and combining it with four modern tunes, which should never have worked.

"So you have every other tune set in 1963 or earlier with a theme tune which for this little independent picture won the Oscar that year for best song.

"It shouldn't work. Everything up to that moment is set in 1963; you can't put in a song written in 1987 which is from the time of 1987.

"It is a 1963 story but then you drop in these things like Hungry Eyes or Time of my Life, which are the best songs of that moment, not 1963, and they are anthems of all time. It shouldn't have worked but it did because it was all good enough.”

And looking at the sell out performances the songs are still good enough and the story is still touching people.

Dirty Dancing runs from 04-07-12 to 25-08-12.

Roger Clarke 


The show's casting has been announced for its run at the Hippodrome which opens, appropriately enough, on American Independence Day, July 4.

American actress Jill Winternitz stars as idealistic Baby Houseman, the role taken by Jennifer Grey in the film, who discovers love and life in the summer she will never forget.

Jill trained at RADA and her theatre credits include Ophelia in Hamlet and The Prioress in The Canterbury Tales (Queen Mary 2); Wounded (Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble); Nina in The Seagull (MXAT) and Sunday in the Park with George (Interlochen Center for the Arts).

Nicky Griffiths will play Penny Johnson, with the show since it opened in Bristol last year, Her other credits include Lisa in Mamma Mia! (Prince of Wales); Lou-Anne in the original London cast of Hairspray (Shaftesbury); the original London cast of Wicked (Apollo Victoria) and Grease (UK tour).

Paul-Michael Jones, stars as Johnny Castle, the role made famous by Swayze. He trained at Laine Theatre Arts, graduating in 2007. His theatre credits include Eddie in Mamma Mia! (Prince of Wales); We Will Rock You (Cologne) and dance captain in Fame – the Musical (European tour). He has also represented England as a Latin American and Ballroom Dancer at The World Championships in Singapore 

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