Dirty Dancing comes to Milan with the biggest advance booking since Stage Entertainment took over the Teatro Nazionale, beating even Beauty and the Beast and Mamma Mia! The producers must be breathing a sigh of relief as the Italian economy's bumpy ride doesn't seem to be affecting ticket sales, such is the film in the cultural DNA of women who want to dance with Patrick Swayze, men who want to be Patrick Swayze and probably men who want to dance with Patrick Swayze too.
When the show opened in London it set the record for advance bookings there , yet the film and the show's writer, Eleanor Bergstein, resisted offers to turn the film into a musical for more than fifteen years.
I couldn't see the point. The film could be seen in the cinemas, on television… why try to recreate it on stage?
She was finally convinced when the letters from viewers, which continually arrive, demonstrated that the film had the same effect on a new generation, and she thought how powerful her story would be if seen ‘live'.
Bergstein finally said ‘yes' in 2004 and the first stage version opened in Australia; it is now being produced all over the world, and the Milan production is that of Sarah Tipple who directed it at the Bristol Hippodrome in 2011.
Bergstein is a fascinating woman with her shaggy-dog mane of white hair and large features, yet she is quietly spoken and precise in her comments, even when speaking in Italian which she picked up as a girl holidaying in Italy in the '60s, when the musical is set. 1963 was the year of Kennedy's assassination and Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” speech, when youth was changing and sexual expression was emerging, and in the middle of it all was Bergstein, now 76, but she doesn't look it, or act it. In the '80s, with a nostalgic memory of that summer, she wrote Dirty Dancing, and the worldwide success was phenomenal. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry:
As of 2009, it had earned over $214 million worldwide. It was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video, and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack generated two multi-platinum albums and multiple singles, including “(I've Had) The Time of My Life”, which won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a Grammy Award for best duet.
More than 1,000 people auditioned for the show and Bergstein handpicked the final Italian cast. She is delighted with the group.
They have a freshness, an energy, and are a very talented group of people.
Gabrio Gentilini , who was Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever at the same theatre, plays Johnny, and Sara Santostasi is Baby. Santostasi is only 21, but received dancing training in a very public way when she participated three years ago in Ballando con le stelle or Dancing with the Stars – in Britain, Strictly Come Dancing – when she finished in second place.
Dirty Dancing may not have the sophistication of Sondheim, and in some ways it is not truly a musical at all as the musical numbers are incidental to the action – switch on the radio and there's a song playing; go to a party and someone's singing – but it is a joyous and infectious celebration of '60s music and dance within a story of young love. It obviously still pushes all the right buttons because over a quarter of a century later audiences are still having the time of their lives.
Dirty Dancing – 9 October until 28 December 2014
Barclays Teatro Nazionale:
Via Giordano Rota, Milano – Piazza Piemonte
Box-office: 14.00-19.00 from Tuesday to Sunday
Tel. 02 00640888 15.00 – 19.00 rom Tuesday to Sunday
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.