Theatre Interview: Roseanna Frascona, Lewis Kirk & Claire Rogers, Dirty Dancing, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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L-R: Claire Rogers (Penny Johnson),
Lewis Kirk (Johnny Castle) and
Roseanna Frascona (Baby Houseman).

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Provided By: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Prior to tonight’s showing of Dirty Dancing at the Liverpool Empire, Mark Armstrong spoke with three leading cast members – Roseanna Frascona, who plays Baby Houseman; Lewis Kirk, who plays Johnny Castle; and Claire Rogers, who plays Penny Johnson – to discuss the show, the Liverpool audience and how often the famous dance scene was rehearsed …

Firstly, explain the plot of Dirty Dancing to those who may be unfamiliar.

Claire: “Penny Johnson is the dance instructor at Kellerman’s. She’s also best friends with Johnny Castle, and they’ve both been friends for many years. Baby comes on holiday to Kellerman’s, and suddenly she gets intertwined with Johnny and Penny’s lives. You see a whole friendship developing, but at the same time, Penny’s going through a very difficult time in her life. There’s a lot of sadness, and Baby kind of steps in and pretty much saves the day. So, for me as Penny, you see my work side (at Kellerman’s), and then you see the real side of what’s actually going on in her life. Which is great, because there’s lots of different emotions and dance numbers and scenes. So, it’s a packed show.”

How did you research your role beforehand, and had you previously seen the Dirty Dancing film?

Lewis: “I’ve seen the film before. I’ve got three sisters so, when I was growing up, it was part of my world as well. So I was familiar with Dirty Dancing. Research-wise, I suppose that when you get the job and you get the scripts, in order to give the people what they want to see, you have to add the flavours of the original film. So, you have to go back and watch the film. I went back and watched it again, and I paid attention to how Patrick Swayze was in the role, because really the audience has come to see Patrick Swayze up there. So you add a little bit of that flavour, and then you make it your own as well. And you put your own life experiences into your character as well.”

When the opportunity came up to perform in Dirty Dancing, what most attracted you to the role?

Roseanna: “For me, Baby is possibly one of the nicest characters I’ve ever come across. It was wonderful to be able to go back and look into the 1960s; I made a little scrapbook with lots of pictures! And doing that to get to know her lifestyle was such a lovely opportunity because, essentially, I think she’s somebody that stands up for what she believes in. She cares about the environment, she cares about equality, she’s about to go off and study the economic development of under-developed countries. She’s very much interested in putting the world to rights and, as Claire says, she’s able to do that in a very small way when she meets the less advantaged characters of Penny and Johnny, who have come from a very different background from her.

“Like Lewis was saying, what’s lovely about performing is that you take aspects of yourself and you take aspects of the character, and you blend them together. It’s like having tracing paper: as if you’ve got tracing paper of yourself, and you’ve got tracing paper of the character, so some parts match up, and some parts don’t. And for the bits that don’t match up, you have to fill them in, which you’ll be able to do from looking at other places, such as looking at the context of the period, or from re-reading the script lots and lots of times, and figuring out what makes the character a bit different.

“In the case of Baby, I’m incredibly lucky that this my first big job out of drama school, and I’ve got to play somebody who I think has lots in common with me. At the same time, she’s a bit younger, she’s got so much energy, and by playing her, you have to fall in love every night, and to be so excited by a new world that you come upon when you go on holiday. Basically, it’s like being on holiday all the time! So, I feel really, really lucky, and essentially I’m attracted to everything about the part of Baby.”

Claire, you’ve previously starred in the West End version of Dirty Dancing. How do you tailor your performances to suit the Liverpool audience, if at all?

Claire: “I wouldn’t say that I change my performance in any way based on where we are in the country, because the show works no matter where you take it. So, it’s just about giving everything that you’ve got in every performance, and it changes all the time naturally. You’re performing every day, so one day you might feel more emotional in scenes. But, at times, that’s a really good thing, because you want it to be as real as possible. So far, we’ve had a great response here in Liverpool, so I think that as a company and as a show, we can see that the audience here are enjoying what we’re doing. So, that’s a great thing for us.”

Roseanna: “I think it’s almost more about what Liverpool brings to us than what we bring to Liverpool. For instance, in one of the opening speeches that I have, I mention The Beatles, and of course the crowd in Liverpool gave us a big cheer, which isn’t normal. Similarly, when we were up in Glasgow, the Referendum was on, and so some of the scenes about voting got a bit of a cheer, which was unexpected. And then we did the show in Dublin, so of course the abortion stuff that Penny goes through was received differently there. So, like Claire says, we do the show with all the energy that we possibly can, but sometimes we can get different kinds of reactions, and that’s what makes it beautiful because it keeps things fresh for us.”

Lewis, I understand that your role came up on fairly short notice?

Lewis: “Yeah, I’m covering for Gareth Bailey (who had hurt his ankle). I’m covering for the entirety of the show’s run in Liverpool, but for me it’s such a great opportunity, because it’s a lovely role for me to play. And I get so much enjoyment from playing it. Obviously, based on the audience’s reactions to me playing the role, it’s nice for me to be a part of it, and to be a big part of it as well.”

The last question is for Lewis and Roseanna. How often have the two of you rehearsed the final dance scene?

Lewis: “We’ve had a few shows on together now, so we’ve had time to go through it together. But I suppose it works because we’re both very comfortable now playing our roles. With the lift, of course, we practiced a few times just to make sure we got that right.”

Roseanna: “I think what’s been great about Lewis coming on for this run of Liverpool is that we actually did work together for quite a while at the beginning of this tour, so I actually had a week rehearsing with Lewis before we went on in Bristol. So, we’re kind of refinding the things that we had and what we found when we danced together almost a year ago.”

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage runs in the Liverpool Empire Theatre until Friday April 25. For ticket information, click here.

You can learn more about Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage by clicking here.