Review: Dirty Dancing at The Grand Theatre Leeds

Review: Dirty Dancing at The Grand Theatre Leeds

Dirty Dancing – The Grand Theatre, Leeds

8th June 2023

Before I start this review, I have to point out that I do not even closely fall into the demographic for this production as a 50 something man from a little town in the north east of England. I do not think I was in the demographic when the film on which this show is based was released back in 1987 to be honest. I came along to see it because I happened to be in Leeds this evening and it was playing at the beautiful Grand Theatre to an almost sell out crowd. 

Dirty Dancing is a jukebox musical based on the aforementioned film which starred Patrick Swazye and tells the love story of Johnny Castle, a dance instructor at a high-class holiday resort, and Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, a guest at the same. The story is set in 1963 and has themes which touch on class inequalities and prejudice but in a rather superficial way that does not really amount to any meaningful message. 

Michael O’Reilly takes over the Swayze role and he is perfectly cast as he has more than a passing resemblance to the man himself with shades of Henry Cavill’s superman. He certainly had all the ladies in the audience whooping and cheering whenever he made an appearance. Credit also has to go to the casting directors for finding Kira Malou who ticks every box as nerdish but beautiful Frances Houseman.

The set, lighting and sound is all magnificent bringing a colourful and lively interpretation of the film to life on the stage. The musical is very faithful to the film and includes everything that a fan would want or ask for. The musicians, quite a few of whom appear on the stage are outstanding, the saxophonist is particularly impressive both in his musicality and his vocals. The whole orchestra are really impressive. Colin Charles and Billy Kostecki must be singled out for their fantastic performances as the hard-working staff of Kellerman’s Mountain Home. Finally, another massive shout out goes to the signer who was absolutely magnificent from the opening ‘switch off your mobile phones’ to the final bow. That guy works his socks off with great glee, charm, and a wonderful presence. 

Most people who know me will tell you that I have something of a problem with jukebox musicals. This is not snobbery on my part because I find some of them very good indeed – Moulin Rouge is a prime example of a jukebox musical done very well indeed – this one, however, offers nothing more than the film and, certainly in the first half, is pondering and slow to get going. That said, by the end, it concludes most satisfactorily but does not really offer anything more than sitting to watch Patrick and Jennifer get their groove on in the film. 

I have another couple of issues with this production. Plastered around the entire theatre were pithy notices suggesting that residents of Kellerman’s should refrain from singing along and that the staff may ask people to ‘curb their enthusiasm.’ This is all very well but when the opening of the second act is a number which actively encourages audience participation, I my heart went out to the front of house staff who were on an absolute hiding to nothing. Much space is given to the decline of audience etiquette in theatres these days but I cannot find any fault with the excitable crowd this evening – and they were – when the entire cast is encouraging it from the opening of Act Two. 

If you are a fan of the movie ‘Dirty Dancing’ then you will thoroughly enjoy this stage version because it will tick all the boxes. Even if you are not then this production is glitzy, there is some amazing talent in the cast and the choreography is sublime. It is a bubble gum musical and as such – it is fine. Certainly, the packed audience this evening had a thoroughly entertaining evening. 

Dirty Dancing – The Musical plays at Leeds Grand Theatre until 10th June and shimmies into Newcastle Theatre Royal from 1st – 5th August.

-Stephen Stokoe


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