The classic story on stage
At the Palace Theatre, Manchester until the 15 June
Reviewed by Debbie Tasker
The iconic 1987 movie starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray is brought to the stage with spectacular results!
The action centres around Kellermans hotel in the summer of 1963 where the well to do Houseman’s are spending their summer vacation. Naive Frances (Baby) Houseman befriends some of the entertainment staff including Johnny Castle and Penny Johnson and has her eyes opened to a different way of life. In helping them out she has to learn to dance like a professional and partner Johnny.
I love the film, in fact it features in my top 5 all-time favourites musicals .I know it word for word (should a woman of 46 be admitting to that!) as does my sister (she's 34 so maybe can be excused) so we were more than excited to be going to watch the stage show last night.
From the minute the band began to play and the dancers burst onto the stage to Be My Baby I knew we were going to have the time of our lives (yes I know oldie but goldie).
The soundtrack is instantly recognisable 60s hits and all are performed fantastically by the well placed band on a ledge above the stage. While the accompanying powerful singers are superb. Do You Love Me? Love Man, Wipe Out, Hungry Eyes, Hey Baby and my favourite Cry To Me were all in there along with many others.
The stage was on fire with incredible dancers who know how to hold a captive audience. Johnny is played by Paul-Michael Jones an utterly brilliant dancer, but I felt he lacked the charisma and "rough diamond" aspect Swayze brought to the role. I know he is a tough act to follow but there was just something missing. Baby is Jill Winternitz, we see her blossom from a gawky teenager into a beautiful young lady as the show progresses, she plays the part to perfection. But Nicky Griffiths, Penny Johnson, gives in my opinion a spectacular outstanding performance and steals the scenes she is in and is by far the best mover and shaker. Dr Jake Houseman character is played exceptionally well by James Coombes also.
The rest of the cast is excellent and they dance, sing and act their hearts out to make this a night to remember.
The set is masterpiece with a revolving stage and projections of cornfields, mountains and even the lake – I loved this bit, the way it is done is genius. The interior set designs stay very close to the originals as does the script and costumes are spot on.
The climax where those famous words "nobody puts baby in the corner" are spoken, and Johnny struts his way over for the last dance and the magnificent lift bring a dazzling end to the show. It is never going to live up to the movie, but the cast do a tremendous job of bringing it to the stage, and we had a magical evening.
I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a sing-a-long to round of the show and get everybody on their feet, and also that She's Like The Wind was left off the playlist, well kind of there was small instrumental bit played, how could they? To me and I am sure other diehard fans it is a big part of the story.
One to see!
Tickets are available from £23.40 to £79.90 (plus booking fee) from here.