First Night: Dirty Dancing, Aldwych Theatre, London

Sexy, sensuous and sold out before it starts
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The Independent Culture

This stage version of the iconic 1987 movie has managed to become a record-book phenomenon well before last night's joyous opening to the press.

With £6m in advance ticket sales, Dirty Dancing is the most successful pre-premiere sold-out show in the history of London theatre. That is why I am already at work on a spin-off. It's called Filthy Flower-Arranging and follows the fortunes of a vicar's daughter, new to the village, who notices that there's a hunk from the wrong side of the tracks working in the florist's and that this guy really knows where to stick his dahlias.

Her snobbish father disapproves but soon the young couple are practising flower-arrangement like there's no tomorrow in secret for a local competition. His way with wisteria changes her life and soon she has what everyone wants - her hands on his seed packets. When he's falsely accused of theft, she fesses up to her own green fingers.

Oh all right, there's one big drawback - not too many opportunities for the dancing that is the delight of James Powell's attractively staged and happiness-spreading production of the nifty theatrical adaptation by Eleanor Bergstein.

True, as Johnny, the chippy dance instructor at the up-market American Butlins, Josef Brown does not have the balletic dynamism of Patrick Swayze in the movie, nor does he have the latter's capacity to make you root for the little man, as he's a tall, strapping mass of muscle.

But he and the well-cast Georgina Rich -- who brings light physical grace and just the right kind of unconventional attractiveness to the role of doctor's daughter, "Baby" Houseman - radiate an infectious pleasure in their dancing together.

All the trademark movements of their mambo-ing - the erotically arched backs, the showy lifts, the fingers trailing down the arm that is sexily cupping a face etc - are executed with a raunchy, amused sensuousness.

This is a show that will give keen pleasure to Dirty Dancing addicts and to newcomers alike. It's often visually lovely, shifting location with the use of hyper-real video footage. There's a ravishing sequence when Johnny teaches a ladies' group the cha-cha and their swishing early 60s skirts are simultaneously projected in all their colourful, polka-dotted glory in close-up on to screens at the back.

The music is a mixture of recorded golden oldies (Dusty Springfield, Everly Brothers et al) and powerful live singing (there's a great falsetto version of "In the Still of the Night" during one scene of post-coital tenderness). The stage version's attempt to bring in the Civil Rights movement of the period (including a rendition of "We Shall Overcome") feels awkward, perfunctory and. tacked-on.

But, in general, this is a very enjoyable evening. One pleasure is anticipating the dialogue that has achieved catchphrase status. In my own Filthy Flower-Arranging, the irate vicar accidentally floors his daughter with a bonsai tree, leading Johnny to storm in and declare that "Nobody puts Baby in a coma".

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