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Dirty Dancing taps into nostalgia trend


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“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

It’s one of the most famous lines in film, guaranteed to pull audiences of a certain age straight back to the 1980s and the classic scene where dance instructor Johnny (Patrick Swayze) pulls love-struck Baby out of the corner and into a raunchy dance routine.

It may be schmaltzy by 21st-century standards, but audiences seem happy to be pulled back to the past.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage is the latest in a string of nostalgic musicals enjoying sell-out tours across Australia, and last week it was announced that Ghost the Musical, based on the 1990 film which also starred Swayze, will have its premiere in Adelaide next January.


Kirby Burgess as Baby and Kurt Phelan as Johnny. Photo: Jeff Busby

“We’re going back to the ’70s and ’80s, which is now looked upon as nostalgia – I think people yearn for that,” says John Frost, producer of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, which opens at the Festival Theatre next month.

“I’ve just produced the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Grease, which were both great successes.

“There is a big trend for this sort of stuff, which is very entertaining and not too taxing.”

Frost says the script for the stage production of Dirty Dancing is almost identical to that of the 1987 film, which itself was set in 1963 and told the story of a teenage girl (“Baby” Houseman) who is seduced by both the dance scene and the dance instructor while on holiday at a resort with her family.

The soundtrack included catchy hits such as “Hungry Eyes”, “The Time of My Life” and “Dirty Dancing”, all of which feature in the musical alongside high-energy dance routines by a cast featuring Kurt Phelan as Johnny, the role made famous by Swayze, and Kirby Burgess as Baby.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage was first performed in Sydney in 2004 and has returned to Australia after touring across the world, including a sell-out season in London’s West End.

“I think the movie was a beloved title that Eleanor Bergstein, the creator of the film and stage musical, always had great belief in it,” Frost says.

“When it [the musical] first opened in Sydney a lot of years ago, it surprised many people that it was a big hit. It’s been a great Australian success story in a way, because it first played here.

Dirty Dancing is a show that even if you’re not a theatre-goer, you will go and see it.”

Dirty Dancing is just one of numerous successful plays and musicals produced by Adelaide-born Frost, who says his desire for a showbiz career was sparked by the musicals he saw as a boy at Her Majesty’s Theatre. At just 16, he quit school and left home to go on tour as a quick-change dresser with theatrical agency JC Williamson on its production of Mame.

And he never came home, working his way up the industry ladder and producing shows such as Wicked, Legally Blonde the Musical, South Pacific and The King & I. At last year’s Helpmann Awards, Frost was awarded the 2014 JC Williamson award, considered one of the Australian live music industry’s top awards for lifetime achievement.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage opens at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre on October 2.



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