Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage

Theatre Review | 2015 Brisbane Season

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life | Image Taken By Myself

The Lyric Theatre stage at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre has been home to some of the biggest and flashiest performances in Queensland. With it playing host to the big-budget and highly memorable fantasy stage musicals ‘The Lion King‘ and ‘Wicked: The Untold Story of The Witches of Oz‘ so far this year, whatever came next had a very hard act to follow. From now until July 18 at the very least, the Lyric is playing host to the latest Australian production of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage – an adaptation of the hit 1987 romantic drama film first performed in Australia a decade ago.

To borrow a piece of terminology from The Rocky Horror Show, I entered this performance as a “virgin”. I had never seen the original film before, and entered the theatre with no knowledge of what to expect. With that in mind, the storyline of Dirty Dancing on stage came across as perfectly comprehensible and enjoyable. Therefore, provided you are willing to pay a little bit more attention to what is taking place, having watched the source film beforehand isn’t a necessity.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage 1

The story of Dirty Dancing follows 17 year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Kirby Burgess), who travels with her family for a holiday in New York’s Catskill Mountains during the Summer of 1963. While initially partaking in the somewhat mundane activities offered by the resort, everything changes when she offers to help employee Billy (Mark Vincent) carry watermelons to the staff quarters. Once arriving, she uncovers and is drawn into the more raunchy and risque dance parties taking place in the staff quarters every night. This is also where her eyes first fall upon the resort’s dance instructor Johnny Castle (Kurt Phelan). He is convinced to train her after his dance partner Penny Johnson (Maddie Peat) is uncovered to be pregnant, and seeking an abortion on the same night a major dance performance is on. From there… their relationship begins to bloom…. causing both happiness and chaos for the pair.

While the storyline may be more grounded in reality and serious than quite a few other performances at QPAC as of late, it nevertheless proved to be an enjoyable tale which draws you in through its likable characters, strong use of music/dance and the occasional quirky moment scattered throughout. Although there were a few new additions, it stays faithful to its source material – including the ending song’s “lift” and the classic line “Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner” – both of which earned loud cheers and applause from the entire audience. Interestingly enough, more emphasis in the lobby seemed to be promoting the phrase “I Carried A Watermelon”, a phrase which is used in the stage musical, however wasn’t given much emphasis or applause when performed on-stage. Personally, it was one of the more memorable lines given the situation it was used.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage 2

In terms of character development, Baby and Johnny are the only two to receive much in the way of focused development. A few others including Penny, Billy and Baby’s father Jake Houseman (Adam Murphy) weave in and out of the story without much too much focus or development. The remainder of the cast came across as more critical to the scenery, songs and setting than the actual storyline. While it would have been interesting to explore a few of the other characters, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, you get to witness the romance between the lead duo grow, while still being given the impression that life is still going on around them.

Even without the nostalgia of the classic film, I found Dirty Dancing’s storyline to be a simple yet pleasant and emotive thing to watch. It is something you can go into with a glass of wine, sit back, and enjoy without needing to fret about a complex storyline or needing to juggle the names of twenty different characters.

All that being said, you should not go into Dirty Dancing expecting it to be your typical stage musical. Although not short of songs, many of the principal cast members have minimal if any singing roles on-stage. As the title or original film may already imply, this production heavily involves the cast dancing – which is of a consistently high standard throughout. While it was clear that Kirby Burgess is a very talented dancer, it was also very enjoyable to see her character progressively build her skills during the entire show, making the renown “lift” scene all the more special at the end. Dancing is complemented by a minimalistic yet visually effective stage, with plenty of room to maneuver and adequate use of both props and digital screens.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage 3

The Dirty Dancing track listing is huge however, with the program listing 45 songs performed either in-part or all the way through. Some of these are original masters used to give authenticity to the setting (Eg. Hey! Baby by Bruce Channel), others are performed by the cast on-stage and a few others allow you to see the band perform alongside the rest of the cast. Seeing the band perform live was due to them being positioned in the top half of the stage, and could be hidden or shown through a set of blinds. An example of this can be found in the image below. As there were several occasions where characters danced in a venue which justified a band, it added a bit of authenticity to each scene by having the band visible and more actively engaging with the characters, rather than being located below the stage and out of sight.

One thing I loved about Dirty Dancing was how it kept with the era instead of attempting to modernize it. Some of the elements which were retained include archived audio/songs, references to events which happened at or around the time, and there were no attempts at adding a few decades to the dance styles. All the little bits and pieces made the show feel more authentic to the 1960’s.

This was coupled by an interesting display shown on the walls of QPAC’s Pedestrian Tunnel, providing some extra insight into 1963 and the events which happened around that time. For example, there were timelines of events which happened during the year (Eg. One around American nuclear weapons in 1963) and quotes from President John F. Kennedy. While there isn’t that much about the actual show on display, there was a tonne of extra reading which is worth a good 5-10 minutes going through pre-show.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage 4

Targeted at a more mature audience than previous shows in the Lyric Theatre, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage is a creative display of dancing and music. The team has taken a classic and highly received film, and given it even more life on the stage. It is genuinely enjoyable with some fantastic dancing from the principal and ensemble cast, alongside solid acting and an easily approachable storyline. However, those looking for the full “stage musical experience” might be better looking elsewhere, as this show is more two-and-a-half hours of plot and dancing, than two-and-a-half hours of singing, plot and dancing.


Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage is currently being held at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) from now until July 18 at the very least. Tickets can be purchased via the QPAC website or through their box office – with prices ranging from $59.90 to $139.90 dependent on session, seating and concession status.


Complementary tickets to see Dirty Dancing were provided for the show’s opening night.

Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.


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