'Dirty Dancing' review — have the time of your life at the musical classic

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

With its infectious mix of chart-topping tracks, explosive dance routines, and that lift, Dirty Dancing at the Dominion Theatre is a joyous musical tonic. You’ll wish you could book a one-way trip to Kellerman’s.

At its heart, Dirty Dancing is about the endearing summer romance between holidaymaker Frances “Baby” Houseman, and the resident dance instructor Johnny Castle. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze put the Catskills lovers on the Hollywood map, and their spirits resonate in the stage adaptation.

Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly play the romantic duo; their undeniable chemistry sizzles throughout, dancing into each other’s hearts with a tender, yet fiery, touch.

Malou embodies the baby-faced teenager, playing the innocent, doe-eyed goofball in all the physical moments. Meanwhile, O’Reilly oozes sex appeal, making a 2000-strong audience swoon in unison — both for his killer dance routines and his sculpted torso.

There’s great supporting work too, notably from Charlotte Gooch as Johnny’s dance partner Penny — Gooch and O’Reilly’s show-stopping moves bring the house down. Georgina Castle delivers a refreshing comedic turn as Lisa Houseman, especially in a raucous version of “Lisa’s Hula”. Plus, there’s soulful vocals from the show’s lead vocalists Colin Charles (as Tito Suarez) and Lydia Sterling (as Elizabeth).

The musical incorporates all the classic hits from the film like “Hungry Eyes,” “She’s Like the Wind,” and “Cry To Me.” While the show relies on recordings, it’s also exciting to see the six-piece Kellerman’s Band take centre stage too, adding a brassy flair to the pop hits.

But what is Dirty Dancing without... dancing? Thankfully, there’s plenty of it, as a hardworking ensemble power through dozens of choreographer Austin Wilk’s non-stop dance routines. They salsa, rumba, and merengue their way across the vast Dominion stage, doing their best to fill the space and cover a sparse set. If there’s ever a slow turn, the ensemble energises their audience and lifts the show to new heights.

There’s a lot of additional material infused in the stage show too, allowing audiences to understand the Houseman’s family dynamic, as well as more scenes between Baby, Johnny, and Penny. It’s a shame then that the important abortion subplot feels rushed, given the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States. Constant references to Martin Luther King's politics aren't explored in full detail either, and static scenes end mid-sentence, with actors freezing on stage in a blackout to convey the end of the conversation.

Federico Bellone’s faithful direction stays so true to the film that at times, the musical struggles to breathe. But by the time Johnny struts in, whisks Baby onto the dancefloor and utters “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” all concerns melt away. Everyone screams "Yes!" This is the big hitter. If you’re here for those final moments alone, you’ll be giddy with dance fever.

Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage is at the Dominion Theatre through 29 April. Book Dirty Dancing tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Michael O’Reilly & the ensemble of Dirty Dancing (Photo by Mark Senior)

Originally published on

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