At the risk of sounding petty, this was the first time that I have been given restricted view tickets to review a performance, so I’ll review the three-quarters of Milan’s Dirty Dancing that I saw. The first musical number, for example, was either performed by someone offstage, by a pre-recorded voice, or by someone standing down-right which was the zone hidden from me.
It doesn’t matter what I write, as Dirty Dancing at the Teatro Nazionale has already set records for advance sales (as it did in London, and seemingly every other place it has gyrated its hips) and as this is a limited run there are likely to be few tickets to be had. However write I will, because there is a fundamental flaw in this production which appears in the majority of Italian musicals: the acting is not up to scratch.
This is a play where people dance because there happens to be music playing in the hotel, on the radio, on a 45rpm. There are almost no songs which push the action along, therefore it should be possible to take away the musical numbers and make it believable as a theatre text. Unfortunately, the acting is largely like that found on the infamously awful Italian soaps. The fact that it wasn’t working as a story was underlined by the groupies in the audience who clapped and yelled at every entrance and exit of the show’s ‘star’ – so when he appeared shirtless after a supposedly dramatic moment there were yells and applause, proving that they were not following the storyline at all. In fact, the claque-feel from part of the audience (which always has a negative effect on the non-claque part) made the evening feel like an end-of-term school show, with exaggerated clapping from family and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad, in fact I’m certain that most people who choose to go and see this show will enjoy it enormously… it’s just that it could be so much better if the characters and their interactions were credible. Of the cast, Natalia Magni was excellent as the mother, the two main roles were satisfactory (Sara Santostasi as Baby and Gabrio Gentilini as Johnny) in their acting, though both were a little bland, and the fact that the iconic lift didn’t come off was probably down to first night nerves, and Santostasi’s lack of dancing experience. Marco Stabile was a cheeky presence, though when he enters struggling with his three gigantic watermelons, the effect was destroyed when Baby lifted one up like a grain of rice. Russell Russell showed off his charismatic voice and was very slick in his dance moves and Irene Urcioli as Baby’s older sister was fun and convincing. The most important talent on stage was Federica Capra who plays Penny Johnson and was so classy as the resort’s principal dancer that she seemed to belong more to the affluent guests rather than the group of ‘dirty dancers’ that made up the entertainment staff.
Singing and dancing was good all round, and the production values are excellent, with the stunning set by Stephen Brimson Lewis and video projections by Jon Driscoll created for the 2011 Bristol Hippodrome version of the show.
I remember, years ago, that in London we always left a West End musical saying, “Wonderful, but Broadway’s something else!” Well, London has caught up, and how. Now it’s time for Italy to do the same, but for now I can only say, “Great, but London’s something else!”
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.