Review: A Night of Dirty Dancing: The Ultimate Tribute Show, Ipswich Regent, May 28

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing - Credit: Archant

It would take a phenomenal effort to produce a bad Dirty Dancing show. The 1987 coming-of-age drama is ripe for any interpretation: iconic music, a timeless script, a clear story with emotional depth, relatable characters and well-defined goals, and of course, some pretty captivating dancing.

And the Ipswich Regent was treated to an energetic rendition on Saturday night. A Night of Dirty Dancing: The Ultimate Tribute Show featured a determined and professional set of cast members. It was an uplifting (pun intended) and entertaining performance which lived up to expectations.

I had only watched the film for the first time, at my girlfriend’s behest, two weekends previously. I was vaguely aware of the Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey epic last scene, but was unexpectedly impacted greatly by the whole experience. Maybe there are Dirty Dancing dance classes we can sign up for somewhere, I thought.

So I was well-prepped for the show, which blasted into existence with a string of hit songs, such as Big Girls Don’t Cry (The Four Seasons), and sharp dance moves.

But it became very clear early on that it was not going to be a linear stage portrayal of the film. It was not going to follow the drama scene by scene and include all the characters. Baby somehow survived without her parents.

Instead, the proprietor of the summer resort, Max Kellerman, and Baby’s older sister Lisa (the two stand-out stars, incidentally), acted as narrators in between acts. Cutting out substantial and important sections of the film’s story line backfired, I thought. The low-budget film was only 100 minutes in length, so there is potential to carry out a scene-by-scene, or thereabouts, portrayal. The resultant effect was that it felt like we were watching a highlight reel of the film, rather than having the characters brought to life in front of us and vicariously living through their life-affirming episodes.

In particular, for the famous ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ scene, there was no build up. The moment suffered from a lack of tension and purpose – all we had were our memories of the film on which to rely.

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They clearly went for something different, and it was an irreverent and self-knowing production. When Baby appeared with the watermelons very early on, Max turned to the audience and remarked: “We know what’s coming next.” This approach was effective and gained a lot of laughs from the audience.

But the biggest comedy moment of the night was when ‘Martin’ from somewhere near the front row was selected to have a quick dance on stage as part of one of the scenes. He demonstrated a wild flair for shaking his hips and showcased some excellent comedic timing when trying to run away from his dance partner.

But ignoring their handling of the plot, the core essence of Dirty Dancing – the singing and dancing – was delivered to a very high standard. It was occasionally spine-tingling and, though forced (the Ipswich crowd were, once again, reluctant to leave their seat), the audience were dancing at the end of a very enjoyable show.