Being a performer for a touring stage musical is no easy task.
Beyond skills and talent, a mass of physical strength is required in order to perform the part well, and also endure the long, hard working days and nights.
The stars of the West End production of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage know this fact very well.
So, in preparation for their shows, they are most certainly packing up on strength and energy by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
GARETH BAILEY. Portraying the character that made Patrick Swayze a Hollywood movie icon is British actor Gareth Bailey.
He trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Performing Arts in London where he learned dance forms like classical ballet, tap, modern, Latin, and others. And so, Gareth sees to it that he is always in tip-top shape.
“I personally go through quite a lengthy process to make sure my physicality, my physical strength, is at its peak whilst I’m in this production.
“I train four to five times a week. I follow a strict diet and I’m very strict in the amount of sleep I get.
“I dedicate a lot of my time outside of my work to make sure that I’m as strong as an ox and I’m dandy for the production,” he said in a press conference at the Diamond Hotel in Manila last March.
Gareth absolutely takes pride in playing the lead role of Johnny Castle and finds it exciting, yet challenging, to give the audience a “3D” version of the well-loved 1980’s film.
He says, “In the movie, you would always get those beautiful cinematic close-ups, so for us, we have to achieve that same kind of energy as the actors [in the movie] did.
“For me, personally, the challenge is the show, the mounting, basically.
“For me, it’s coming from an energy and physical aspect, so it’s become imperative for me to keep my wellness, my health, my strength— to keep it at its highest.
“It’s probably not a lengthy show for Baby [Houseman, the lead female character] and Johnny, but when you’re on stage, you have to get off the stage and change [costume], and then come back on stage… so you don’t get much rest time.
“Also, maintaining a good clear American accent and speak and dance throughout the whole production, I think it’s a really challenging task especially for a male lead.”
BRYONY WHITFIELD. Gareth’s leading lady, Bryony Whitfield, certainly agrees that staying in shape is vital for them.
“As actors, we have to think that our body is our instrument.
“We perform every night, and it’s important that we’re eating properly and keeping active— not only just during the show, but even in swimming, doing yoga, Pilates… that kind of thing.
“And at the top, you know, not only the show, you have to be fit for the show, and more.
“You know Baby, if she’s not on stage, she’s off stage changing [her costume] in the wings, so this show is very physically draining.
“It’s also emotionally draining so it’s nice that we have a helpful team, that we’re all on the same page with the process, and we respect the arts, and it’s great that we all have the love for what we’re doing.”
Like Gareth, Bryony also takes her role to heart and has spent hours and hours of her time preparing for the role.
“I obviously watched the film over and over again prior to the audition and, of course, some more after the callbacks so I was really engrossed with the story.
“And then of course we had workshops for the dancing, and then the dialogues and the costume fittings, choreography and all.
“So, it’s really a tedious process that we all go through to make the show as perfect as possible every time we go on stage.”
Surprisingly, it is neither the physical training nor the acting part that Bryony finds most daunting about her role in the production.
“I guess the biggest challenge for me in my journey is that I’m a trained dancer so I have to go back and be a mover, not a trained dancer, because Baby, in the story, she didn’t know how to dance at first.
“So, it really challenged me as an actress to show it visually to the audience how physically and emotionally I will be able to show how Baby would break into the show, how she starts her journey and until the end, how she shines in ‘The Time of My Life.’”
MILA DE BIAGGI. Another important character in the story is Penny Johnson, played by Cynthia Rhodes in the movie, and now by Mila de Biaggi on stage.
Like her fellow actors, Mila works hard to make her body perfect for the production.
“I make sure that I take my Pilates or I take some ballet classes and go to the gym, and also to make sure that I’m eating right so that my body is strong, that when we do the hectic dance numbers, I can support myself and help my partner at the same time.
“And also, getting to work, you also want to make sure that you are telling the story as an actor. I want to tell the story as truthfully as I can.
“I have done a lot of research to find out a lot about her character.
“Yeah, [I do] a lot of work that goes on outside of the working hours just to make sure that we can all support each other and that we can all play the role the best that we can.”
Penny, of course, was Johnny’s perennial dance partner during the early parts of the story, and for Mila, these are the most challenging areas in portraying her role.
“I’d say [the challenge is] more in the dancing, especially in the couple’s dances.
“Of course, the dance in ‘The Time of My Life’ is just one part of the show, but there are also other partner dances in the show.
“So, if you don’t know your partner [from] the beginning and you have to do all these sexy moves and all these parts, you just have to trust each other and that’s the biggest thing.
“And also, you know, we have to support each other, look out for each other, because as a [dancing] couple it all has to work well, so it’s important to build a relationship.
“And to me, the cast is like my family, so you really trust the other person because it’s what makes the dancing better and easier for us on stage to tell the story.”
“THE TIME OF MY LIFE.” Of course, Dirty Dancing, the musical, would not be what it is if doesn’t recreate the iconic lift, originally performed by Swayze and Jennifer Grey at the climax of “The Time Of My Life.”
So, how do Gareth and Bryony prepare for this moment, which they have to repeat night after night?
“I met Gareth on the first day of rehearsals, so I didn’t do the audition process with him,” Bryony recalled.
“We started doing, you know, building our partnership from day one [of rehearsals] and I think that sort of iconic lift that everyone is waiting for, you know, we can’t get it wrong.
“You only have one chance. It’s not like in the film where you can do take two's. So that’s why we really have to have a wonderful relationship of trust and timing, and also I think it’s a balance thing.
“It’s good that we support each other and… you know, I’m tiny and as you can see Gareth is very tall. So for him to put me up in the air, you know, the fall is going to be quite far.
“So, that’s why I’m thankful that he’s got big arms!” she ends with a laugh.
“It’s a good thing that we practice together and that Bryony and me are actually dancers," says Gareth.
“So, the die hard Dirty Dancing fans, when they get to see the iconic lift that we do at the end of ‘Time of My Life,’ I hope they would feel pretty crazy about it and also the other dances that we do like in the show.
“It’s a [great] thing that the girls trust in the men on the show and that the men trust in them as well, so together it’s perfection.”