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Theatre Review (Singapore): “Dirty Dancing” by Base Entertainment

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Base Entertainment’s latest production to grace the Marina Bay Theatres is Dirty Dancing, a stage version of the famous film with the same name. Dirty Dancing will run from the 24th of May to the 16th of June 2013.

Dirty Dancing tells the story of Baby, who travels to a resort for the summer with her family. The resort employs dancers to give the residents dance lessons and also to entertain them at the in-resort shows. Soon, Baby falls for lead dancer Johnny Castle. Her parents don’t approve because of the social inequality between the two. This is a story of a girl’s coming of age, her discovery of her own sexuality and finding who she is.

The play stays very close to the movie version, and therein lies its weakness. Dirty Dancing, the movie, was a hit in 1987, more than 25 years ago, and hence many of the lines, beats, characters, themes and stories seem tired and irrelevant in today’s world. The hilarious lines from the movie just don’t seem funny today, the personalities from the movie just seem trite today, and the movie’s story just seems too light and unimportant today. Hence it’s a wonder why the creators of this theatrical version chose to follow the movie so closely, when it’s playing to audiences in a new century.

All the actors also seem wooden and unnatural in their acting – their expressions, and especially their delivery of dialogue. Although the actress who plays Baby does well with the physical comedy moments, otherwise she remains unconvincing as a young girl on the brink of a sexual awakening.

In addition, in a movie that was all about dancing dirty, the dance moves on stage that follow closely the dance steps and movements in the film fail to ignite with any sense of energy. First off, with film you can cut and edit various camera angles and shots, which you can’t do with theatre, so following the same dance moves as the film is not a good idea at all. Second, there don’t seem to be enough dancers on stage to generate enough intensity and zest to set the stage ablaze with the vivacity you’d expect from a production that’s all about dancing. And dancing dirty at that!

Many times, in an effort to follow the movie too closely, lively songs such as “Hungry Eyes” and “Stay” are wasted, as instead of perhaps dancing enthusiastically in an ensemble to get the best of the spirit and verve of these songs, the characters are doing something mundane on stage, leaving the music to carry on as a soundtrack without much meaning or complementing action. Sadly however, even when the ensemble is dancing to the toe-tapping “Do You Love Me?”, there are too few dancers to fill the stage space and to give the performance any sort of punch or liveliness. The dance numbers come across as unenergetic and lacklustre. One is therefore left wondering: Where’s the Dance? Where’s the Dirt?

What did stand out in this production are the set and the multimedia effects that change the settings from an indoor resort to Johnny’s artists’ quarters and even to natural outdoor environments like rivers and mountains. This is perhaps is the highlight of the show, along with a feeling of nostalgia for those who grew up in the ’80s and loved the movie version.

Ultimately, Dirty Dancing lacks the energy and vibrancy that one would expect from a show about dancing, and its flaw is that it follows the 25-year-old movie it’s based on without realising that a stage version needs more pizzazz.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.