Stepping into the footsteps of Patrick Sawyze on Norwich stage
PUBLISHED: 09:41 07 September 2012
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As a young dancer, Patrick Swayze was one of Paul-Michael Jones's heroes. Now he's stepped into his shoes to play dance instructor Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing. EMMA LEE met him.
To get the inevitable pun out of the way nice and quickly, Paul-Michael Jones is having the time of his life.
It might be a cheesy thing to say, but hearing him talk about his role as bad boy dance instructor Johnny Castle in the stage adaptation of Dirty Dancing, it’s clear he’s in his element.
Drespite the sniffiness of critics who panned both the film and stage versions, the show, which broke box office records before it even opened in the West End, is on its first UK tour and has been packing in audiences at the Theatre Royal on its three week summer holiday run which continues until next Friday.
Based on the 1987 film, it’s a coming-of-age story set in the summer of 1963.
While on holiday in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her family, 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman stumbles on an all-night dance party in the staff quarters.
Baby can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of leather jacket-wearing Johnny Castle, and the two end up thrown together on and off stage.
Unashamedly feelgood, the show features a host of hit songs including Hungry Eyes, Do You Love Me? and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.
As Paul-Michael explains, he jumped at the chance to play the role.
Not only is Dirty Dancing a hugely popular show — the first six months sold out in London before the curtain had even gone up — but Patrick Swayze, the original Johnny Castle, is one of his heroes.
As a young dancer growing up in Rochdale, Swayze was a role model for him. His parents run a dance school, and at the age of 11 he took up Latin and ballroom dancing.
“Dirty Dancing was a great film for me to watch — seeing Patrick Swayze dancing and making it cool,” he says. “I became a fan pretty quickly.”
Paul-Michael rose through the ranks to represent England in Latin and ballroom at the world championships in Singapore.
The move into theatre came at the age of 19 when he moved to London to study at Laine Theatre Arts.
That was followed by roles in Mamma Mia! in the West End, the UK tour of the Take That musical Never Forget and tours of Fame and We Will Rock You across Europe.
When it came to preparing for Dirty Dancing, Paul-Michael was keen to put his own stamp on the part.
“I watched the film and studied the way Patrick Swayze did it. But for the audition and the rehearsal process I tried to forget everything and tried to put more of me in to it. I didn’t want to do an exact copy,” he says.
Paul-Michael is starring opposite American actress Jill Winternitz as Baby – the part originally played by Jennifer Grey.
From California and trained at the prestigious theatre school RADA, her previous roles include Ophelia in Hamlet and the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales.
And Nicky Griffiths is playing Penny Johnson, fresh from the ensemble in the original company of the production. She has also appeared in Mamma Mia!, Hairspray and Wicked in the West End, Grease on tour and has appeared in Norfolk in the famous Thursford Christmas Spectacular.
Based faithfully on the movie, the stage version of Dirty Dancing was written by the original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein.
“There are some deleted scenes from the film that didn’t make the final cut, which have been added back in to the show,” says Paul-Michael
“You find out a bit more about the different characters — there’s a bit more about Baby’s mum and dad,” he says.
Paul-Michael has been on the road with the show for almost a year, and had been looking forward to returning to Norwich, which he visited when he was in Never Forget.
“Going to new places keeps the show fresh,” he says.
And it seems to be going down well with the film’s legions of devotees.
“The audiences are fantastic. When you get certain lines like ‘nobody puts Baby in a corner’ they go crazy for it,” he says.
Then, of course, there are the fantastic dance numbers, including the show-stopping finale, in which Johnny and Baby perform a certain move called The Lift. Jill needs to have a head for heights and nerves of steel – Paul-Michael is tall.
“With my arms up, she’s about eight feet up in the air,” he laughs.
And there is no room for error.
“It’s scary – it’s quite a tricky move,” he says. “If you think about it, in the film they would have done it as many times as they wanted. On stage it has to be spot-on.”
■ Dirty Dancing continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until September 15, £48.50-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk