GETTING audiences ready for Valentine’s Day, Dirty Dancing stops off in Bradford where Leo Owen caught the show

The opening voice-overed narration is a word exact replica of the 1987 film’s as the central character, Baby, reminisces of the Summer of 1963; perhaps unsurprising, as it has been adapted for the stage by the original screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein. Roberto Comotti’s impressive revolving set design smoothly introduces Kellerman’s, the family holiday resort Baby’s story centres around. An early American Butlin’s for the wealthy, Kellerman’s offers its clientele Simon Says for the masses, golf courses and a talent show, among other things.

It’s the dance classes, however, that are central to the story and Baby (aka Francis) Houseman’s complimentary stay at the resort leads her to discover the type of dancing going on behind closed doors in the staff quarters. It is here, that her predilection to do good leads her to become both emotionally and romantically involved with the dance instructors.

Director Federico Bellone’s casting is an impressive near perfect match to the original film stars, as are Jennifer Irwin’s costumes. Baby (Kira Malou), Penny (Simone Covele), Neil (Greg Fossard), Billy (Alex Wheeler), Johnny (Michael O’Reilly) and Lisa (Lizzie Ottley) are dead ringers for their forerunners with Ottley boasting a particularly accurate portrayal of Lisa’s ear-piercingly funny talent show performance. Fans could only criticise the slightly off casting of Mark Faith as a rather youthful and more actively involved Mr Schumacher.

Comotti cleanly structures the revolving sets with the Houseman’s holiday lodgings on one side of the central “main house” and the staff quarters on the other, allowing audiences to see contrasting interiors and exteriors while emphasising one of the story’s central themes: class divide.

Gillian Bruce’s choreography is near faultless with much-loved dance montages shown through costume change interludes and black outs. Where audiences might question her and Bellone’s decision-making, it seems quite likely the more technically challenging sequences have been staged in deliberately comically unrealistic styles; the legendary water lift, for example, sees the two leads repeatedly emerging from the water with visibly dry hair and clothes. A driving scene seems to boast equally poor special effects as a tiny car stage front “moves” along an enormously wide projected road.

The addition of whole new scenes with more social conscience and stage time for minor characters may surprise hardcore fans who could feel betrayed. Alternatively, they might even relish the chance for Bergstein to flesh-out lesser known characters, such as that of Baby’s parents, Jake (Lynden Edwards) and Majorie Houseman (Lori Hayley Fox). Bellone’s juxtaposition of the senior Housemans with Baby and Johnny opposite each other works particularly well, alluding to the possibility of a “happy-ever-after” for the lovers.

Credible chemistry between characters, a strong ensemble with impressive live vocals and dance moves are notably all-the-more remarkable as the cast seems to be predominantly comprised of newcomers. The show includes many of the original’s classic numbers and some new additions too with Colin Charles as Tito Suarez, Alex Wheeler and Sian Gentle-Green performing some belting solos. Audience participation and “the lift” elicit expected cheers and big grins all around, ensuring Dirty Dancing won’t disappoint fans and will guarantee newcomers the “time of their life” too. If ever a production deserved a standing ovation, here it is.