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Theatre: Here's a little extra dirt on Dirty Dancing as it heads to Sunderland Empire

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Viv Hardwick finds a little extra dirt on Dirty Dancing from performer Carlie Milner, who acts out a 1960s-style abortion as troubled dancer Penny JohnsonTHE not-so-sexy side of Dirty Dancing for 2017 is that leading man Lewis Griffiths is returning from injury to play Johnny Castle, Katie Eccles has just landed second lead as Baby Houseman, leaving show stalwart Carlie Milner as the current cast voice available for interview.Milner plays Johnny’s hard-nosed dance partner Penny Johnson who Baby decides to help when she falls pregnant, in this Karl Sydow and Paul Elliott production which is returning to Wearside after two years.
“Lewis is off at the moment, but will be back for Sunderland,” she says, agreeing that she is having The Time Of My Life (the show’s most memorable track).
“We always get such really great audiences and have a mixed demographic of people coming because there are huge fans of the 1987 film out there. There is a huge support network for this show with many performances selling out. The stage version is the closest you can get to recreating the original starring the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.”
Called Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage, the production has become a multi-million hit since opening in the West End in 2006, following an Australian debut in 2004. “I joined the show back in 2014,” says Milner. “It was a slightly different version, and I was covering the role of Penny. I had a call early last year and was asked if I’d like to play Penny and, for me, it was a no-brainer because it was such a progression.
“On this tour we have a new director and choreographer and the steps and the scenery have altered quite dramatically as well. Anyone who has seen the show previously will see that this version has a completely different look to it. This really does look like the film on stage with all parts re-imagined and re-directed.”
Milner hits on the double nostalgia offered by Dirty Dancing with its 1963 storyline of 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman learning some difficult lessons in life when she holidays in New York’s Catskill Mountains and gets involved in the raunchy world of all-night dance.
“There is a 1980s and a 1960s feel to this show, and I have seen the film a lot because it always seems to be on the telly. Obviously, the direction I’ve had over the past couple of years tells you why things are the way they are in this story.
“This time we were lucky enough to meet Eleanor Bergstein, who based the film script on her own childhood, and she stayed for a week while we were rehearsing. We got some real insight and advice on the whole thing. It was like learning the roles on a deeper level because it all came from her brain in the first place. She talked to me about Penny being thick-skinned because she was kicked out of home when she was young and sees Johnny as her family.
“She talked about the abortion scene and how that, in the 1960s, was a massive thing because it was very much illegal and a serious matter. When Penny does come around to being friends with Baby, she then views Baby’s parents as her own – something that isn’t in the film. She is quite a nice girl really, but has to go through a traumatic experience to get there,” says Milner.
Her character doesn’t appear in the abortion scene because the action if shown outside her cabin.

“All the noise is from the side of the stage, but I guess that particular scene, which involves most of the main characters, does impact on me because Eleanor described what would actually to happening to me. It sounded pretty gruesome, but it the kind of sub-plot which makes Dirty Dancing memorable.”
Dirty Dancing runs at Sunderland Empire from Monday, June 26, to Saturday, July 1. Box Office: 0844-871-3022 or atgtickets.com/sunderland

Source: Tyne Wear Echo