Stage version of 'Dirty Dancing' sells out in record time

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The Independent Culture

Almost 20 years after Patrick Swayze's brooding dance instructor turned Dirty Dancing into one of the screen hits of the decade, the West End stage version it inspired has sold out before the cast has even been selected.

In just six weeks, the musical - which opens at London's Aldwych Theatre on 24 October - has sold out for the first two months of its run with ticket sales of more than £3m.

"This show has become the fastest to achieve such a level of sales in such a short period of time - this is unprecedented demand," said a spokesman yesterday.

Written by the film's scriptwriter, Eleanor Bergstein - who worked her way through university teaching ballroom dancing - it remains faithful to the 1987 celluloid coming-of-age story.

Set in the 1960s, it charts the romance between a 17-year-old doctor's daughter, Frances "Baby" Houseman, who yearns to join the Peace Corps and the broody, working-class dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze) she meets while on holiday with her family.

"The show has everything from the film and more," said Ms Bergstein.

Having already seen 3,000 hopefuls, the producers are still auditioning and, in the words of a spokesman, the "search for Johnny and Baby" continues.

The film was one of the great successes of the late Eighties, the fifth-highest grossing film of 1987 and the first million-selling video. The soundtrack, which featured the Oscar-winning theme tune "Time of My Life", sold 39 million copies. Earlier this year it was voted women's favourite "comfort" film.

While a 2004 sequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights proved a flop, producers are hoping Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage will match the theatrical success of the production in Australia, where it has broken box office records with ticket sales close to one million.

The show's producer, Kevin Jacobsen, said: "Eleanor's story is a gift to the theatre world, it feels like its home should have always been on stage. The music, the dancing and the cast ensure that our audiences are always on their feet at the close of the show."

Earlier this week, Covent Garden was besieged by thousands of hopefuls from around the country, all vying to star in the stage production. Closed auditions are now being held to make the final selection for the leading characters.

The producers say they are promising even more "visually stunning, passionate and energetic dance routines with soaring live vocal arrangements".

Ms Bergstein explained: "I started writing the moving with the Sixties music already in mind. I picked each song and wrote the lines of dialogue against the lines of lyric and melody. It was the time of one's life when one couldnot separate a conversation from the music playing on the radio."

Musicals are as popular as ever in the West End: this production follows such massive hits as Billy Elliot, The Producers and the Queen show We Will Rock You.

Top selling musicals

LES MISERABLES Despite being dismissed by the critics as Les Glums, the show has survived two decades. It has been seen by 55 million people and taken more than £1bn at the box office. Translated into 23 languages, it has played in 38 other countries.

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG had the longest-ever run at the Palladium, the West End's largest theatre. In three years it was seen by three million people and took more than £70m at the box office.

BILLY ELLIOT The tale of a ballet-dancing boy, also inspired by a film, took more than £30m in ticket sales, playing to 650,000 people in less than a year. The three boys who rotated in the role won rave reviews and a Laurence Olivier Award.

WE WILL ROCK YOU The Queen musical also defied the critics. Within six months it had been seen by 500,000 people and tickets for the Dominion's best seats rose to £55.