It's the Summer of 1963 and the Houseman family have made their way - yet again - to spend the sunny months in the luxuries of Kellerman’s hotel resort. But when the star entertainer becomes pregnant, aspiring philanthropist Baby Houseman does all she can to help – even if that involves learning how to dance and taking to the stage so her friend can take the time off for medical assistance. As the sweat begins to form and the day of the performance approaches, Baby finds herself entranced by her new partner, Johnny. As their relationship progresses and familial tensions rise, anything is possible but only one thing is certain – nobody puts Baby in a corner.
Roberto Comotti’s cartoonish set design aptly contextualises the viscid insipidness of the American Summer ideology – with a picture-perfect caricature of the Kellerman’s restaurant taking centre stage amongst an over-green and perfectly manicured forest. Though Valerio Tiberi’s projection design has similar qualities, it soon ventures into the absurdist: in particular, the infamous lake scene (realized through carefully positioned back lighting and a cartoon lake projected onto the upstage scrim) is made laughable through the childish qualities of its aesthetics.
With such a large ensemble cast, there is a certain disappointment in the under-utilization of their talents. With a distinct lack of singing, there is no compensation afforded by an increased frequency of full-stage dance numbers. In fact, scenes are largely fragmented – with clunky set pieces brought on for inconsequential segments of narrative to play out. Nevertheless, there is plenty of joy to be found in the finale – even if the rest of the production is at risk of becoming its warm-up.
Kira Malou brings a sense of humour to Baby, which serves as an endearing addition to the more tender moments in which she and Johnny become acquainted. Michael O’Reilly’s dancing abilities are showcased excellently as Johnny, but there is an air of uncomfortableness to be found in their romantic journey together – something that most certainly isn’t helped by the sporadic tonality of Eleanor Bergstein’s script.
Nevertheless, there is more than enough raw talent to compensate for any creative oversights: a pleasant production, even if unfulfilled in its potential.
Dirty Dancing runs at the Festival Theatre until Saturday 9th March 2019.