VIP Meets…the cast of Dirty Dancing: The Musical

We had the time of our lives catching up with the cast of the stage show of Dirty Dancing.

The iconic story is coming to Dublin next month, with the cast kicking off the Irish leg of their tour in Cork this week. They’ll head to Belfast on the 22nd of August before coming to Dublin in September and finishing up in Derry later that month.

VIP Magazine got to mambo with Michael O’Reilly (Johnny Castle), Kira Malou (Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman) and Georgia Aspinall (Penny Johnson) when they jetted into Ireland.

Hey guys! Dirty Dancing is so iconic! Is there pressure playing these iconic characters?

Kira: When I got the phone call my initial reaction was just pure excitement. I don’t think it hit me what I was really stepping into until that first night in 2018 when we opened in Wimbledon. It hit me that as soon as the curtain came up that’s it for two hours. There is no coming off stage and going through the lines. This is it. You are out there! People love and know this film so well! There’s a lot of pressure stepping out there and saying, “You know this but I’m going to portray this to you as best I can.” I think everyone is so on side with us as well. It’s such a blessing to be on the stage and be these characters every night.

Georgia: It’s my musical debut! So I’m very lucky to be in the position that I’m in! I joined three months ago. You have to be confident in yourself. Because if you’re not, the audience will know. You can’t be second-guessing yourself when you’re out there. If they don’t like you, it’s an opinion, not a fact. You’re not going to please everyone. If you do your best and you do your interpretation, some people are going to love it and some people aren’t… I’ve not had it yet! Everyone loved it so far!

Michael: Yeah, being confident, that’s so important. And having done the show for such a long time, it’s so key.

And playing Penny must be so much fun!

G: She goes through a real journey. She has some highs and she has some real low lows. She’s happy as Larry at the start, but she’s not really happy again until the end. But that’s okay! It’s a beautiful thing for me to dive into the acting. She really does evolve. At the start, I’m really horrible to Baby! Her and Johnny are always close, but it’s nice to have her friendship with Baby develop in the background.

Everyone knows Johnny and Baby, without even saying their last names. But you’ve mentioned that their surnames are an important part of the story…

M: You just need to say Johnny and Baby and people know immediately what story, they know the soundtrack, they know the lines. You don’t need to say second names. But Johnny’s last name is Castle, but that’s his stage name. His real name is Kostecki, which is a Polish last name. When you think about when the film is set and to think about why he changed his last name…the underlying themes of this play are so deep and so profound. They’re so timeless – music, dancing, love. They’re fundamental to human culture. I know people don’t come for these deep thoughts. But when people ask why it’s so successful I don’t think it’s because it’s some cheesy fluff piece. There are all these iconic moments, like the lift, like Johnny and Baby’s relationship but there is so much more that I think people can relate to. And I think that’s what makes it really iconic.

Okay, we have to talk about the lift! Are you nervous doing it?

K: I don’t! I trust Michael wholeheartedly. It’s a bit of an underwhelming story actually. I remember in 2018, the first thing me and Michael did was learn the Time of My Life dance. At the end of learning the routine we had a go at the lift. Michael is 6’2″, but with his arms on top of that, that’s really tall! I did have a little squeal when I did it first. But touch wood nothing has ever gone wrong. We just give each other a little nod and we go for it. It’s a really special moment. I also get a really lovely view of the audience because we rotate in it. It’s very special.

M: The lift is so iconic. And the audience loves those moments. They’re so incredible, they’re so nostalgic. The fact that we have them means we can really have our own interpretations of the other scenes. It’s nice to be able to put your own mark on them.

There are so many iconic parts! “I carried a watermelon” has to be a fan favourite as well!

K: It’s such a random line out of context. “I carried a watermelon.” But it’s just one of the lines that stuck. That and “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”. You can feel the audience anticipate it and it gets a cheer!

Another line that has gone viral on TikTok is “That was the summer of 1963 – when everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind.” Tell me a bit about that.

K: That is such an interesting line as well. I never really thought about it until last year. She doesn’t mind being called Baby, but as the story goes on and she goes on this journey you realise that Baby is used as an attack towards her. Baby is quite ahead of her time and mature in her head. For a 17-year-old in 1963, gunning for a man who is older than her and she is going to have sex with him. She is putting herself on the line to be rejected in a time where sex isn’t a spoken thing and we’re just leaving no sex before marriage behind. She’s standing up for people’s rights. She’s so formidable.

You touched on the more serious themes of the movie. But a lot of people have grown up with the movie and being none the wiser. Do you see audience members be shocked by those themes?

K: We watch it when you’re younger and you don’t take on the deeper themes of it. There’s so much going on. But you’re young and you hear the music so you start dancing around the living room not thinking, “Oh no Penny’s in trouble!” You start to take on a bit more as you’ve lived more. There is so much going on in the story, there’s class, there’s abortion, there’s race. It’s so good that it’s in there because people think they’re coming to watch for the music and the dancing and the love story, but actually they are getting force-fed these things that people need to know about!

M: One of the first things that we spoke about with the director is what is the theme that is a common denominator between every character. Whether it be bravery or honouring the love you have someone or letting the world see you under that mask, it makes it so accessible to so many people. There are so many characters who go on a journey that the audience can relate to. Then we end with Time of My Life which is a celebration of the story we just told. That’s what’s so beautiful about this show.

You obviously get along really well. Kira and Michael, you two are great friends!

K: Nah, Michael sucks! [Laughs] We do get along very well. The same goes for the whole team. We’re very, very lucky.

That’s so sweet, but Georgia it must be nice to play a bit of a mean character!

G: To be fair it is! I think it’s one of my personality flaws where someone could hit me in the face and I would ask if they’re okay. It’s really nice to embody someone who won’t take that. I can learn a lot from her. She doesn’t take any s**t. Some of the lines I saw are just horrible. I’m like, “Wow! That hit a nerve!” She’s just found out that she’s pregnant, she has no money and she’s a dancer so her whole career would be over. If she has the baby she would have a dependent that she doesn’t want. The man she thought loved her had left her. And on top of that, there’s this 17-year-old. And who’s she?! Johnny is meant to help her! She’s not mean, she’s just frustrated with the system. Sometimes the defence mechanism for that is just being a bit nasty.

What a lovely lesson to learn, Michael and Kira what lesson have you learned from Johnny and Baby?

M: I think one of the lessons I’ve learned is that there’s so much strength from vulnerability. Being honest with yourself and letting the world see who you truly are is the biggest superpower you have as a person. I think men need help to learn that lesson.

K: Baby is so brave. I wish I had that bravery at so many points during my life. Especially at the age of 17. She means so well! She wants to do right by everyone. You see her go on this journey of trying to do the right thing but it’s still not working out, but she’s still going for it. I would like to think I try to apply that to my everyday life. Taking on the things like her using her voice in a time where a 17-year-old girl’s voice wasn’t accepted. Being brave, with your voice and your actions.

Dirty Dancing is coming to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre from September 5 – 16, 2023. You can find tickets here. 

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