REVIEW: Dirty Dancing, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, July 1

Dirty Dancing is at the Empire all this week
Dirty Dancing is at the Empire all this week

Nobody puts Baby in the corner, but what about Johnny?

Last time I saw Dirty Dancing on stage I felt the main man lacked the Castle charisma needed for this most iconic of dance roles. I wished that actor had stayed in a corner.

But Lewis Griffiths put that right with his first strut on stage and fling of his leather jacket over his shoulder. He’s got the swagger and charm required of the character that’s been making women swoon since the original film got everyone in a spin back in 1987. Plus, he brings a brooding intensity and rich deep voice that made him so memorable in his last Empire outing, as Nick Massi in Jersey Boys.

Not only does he walk like a man he dances like one too and he was excellent as he hip swivelled like Swayze. Add into the mix a bare bum scene and the already excitable crowd went into meltdown.

In the enviable role of Baby was Katie Eccles who struck just the right balance of innocence and rebelliousness as the 17-year-old who blossoms into a fully-fledged dancer to the tune of one of the best soundtracks in musical theatre. Hungry Eyes, Hey Baby, Do You Love Me? - they’re all there, don’t worry.

As well as staying true to the film - so much so that the first few scenes seemed to rattle along at breakneck speed - there’s some added elements to the story.

Katie Eccles as Baby and Lewis Griffiths as Johnny

Katie Eccles as Baby and Lewis Griffiths as Johnny

Once we hit Hungry Eyes, the pace had a more natural rhythm and it gave the new additions, such as references to 1960s freedom marches and a greater exploration of the trauma of Penny’s abortion space to breathe.

As well as the more emotional scenes to deal with, Penny (played by Carlie Milner) also gets some of the best dances and she’s mesmerising to watch, especially in Hungry Eyes as she slinks around the stage with lithe legs that seem to go on for miles.

The addition of a live singer on stage - hats off to the sultry tones of Sophia Mackay - also gave the famous soundtrack an added dimension.

As we reached that iconic finale lift, the crowd were itching to join in, and many did. We may not have a Johnny to fling us in the air, but we all felt just as uplifted.

•See the stars of Dirty Dancing practice their lift at Roker Beach here