Theatre Interview: Michael O’Reilly, Kira Malou, Greg Fossard & Simone Covele, Dirty Dancing, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing is about to waltz its way back into Liverpool, following a number of successful tours in the past. It’s a timeless tale, one that has everybody up singing and dancing, laughing and crying, and every action and emotion in between. We interviewed several leading cast members of the current production – Michael O’Reilly, who plays Johnny Castle; Kira Malou, who plays Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman; Greg Fossard, who plays Neil Kellerman; and Simone Covele, who plays Penny Johnson – to discuss the show as a whole, their favourite scenes, and which moments challenge them as performers on various levels!

First of all, tell us about the story of Dirty Dancing, and your various characters in the show.

Michael O’Reilly: “I play Johnny, and from his point of view, the plot is that he’s the dance instructor at Kellerman’s, and a family called The Housemans come along for the summer. His relationship with Baby progresses, he ends up teaching her to dance, and they end up falling in love. It’s all about overcoming those conflicts and challenges. Is there a happy ending? Who knows …”

Greg Fossard: “Everybody has seen the film! (Laughs)

Kira Malou: “I play Baby. So, she’s a 17-year-old girl that goes away to Kellerman’s resort with her family. She’s a feisty young lady, she’s quite ahead of her time, and she’s a very well-educated girl. She sees these dancers and it’s quite new to her; she hasn’t seen people dance and move like this before. She takes some dance lessons, she does fall in love with Johnny, and she gets herself in a troublesome situation by trying to do the right thing, but it’s not really the right thing. It’s quite a coming of age for her as she becomes a woman.”

Greg: “I play Neil, the grandson of the man who runs the place where these guys meet. My character is a bit of a try-hard; he grew up with all of the staff kids so he was in the same boat as them, and because of his ancestry and who his grandfather is, he goes on to management. So, he has a few tough moments where he has to do the right thing for the place, but he loses friends and becomes a bit of a loner in the resort. He watches characters like Johnny and Robbie who seem to be quite cool with the ladies, so he tries to take a leaf out of their books, but he just gets it wrong all the time. But he does have a good heart, and as we see throughout the show, he wants to fight for the right things., and to make a difference in the world.”

Simone Covele: “My character is Penny, and Johnny is my dance partner. So I have a pretty big issue in the show! I get pregnant and, with it being set in the 1960s, in those days it wasn’t easy to get an abortion, so we see the trials that I go through, and depending on Baby, even if I don’t want to, I let her help me out. Johnny goes and leaves me, and so we see what happens from there. My story is largely separate from everything else, but it intertwines at points. In the end, it’s just a celebration of life! (Laughs)

What is your favourite moment from watching the original Dirty Dancing movie in the past?

Michael: “Previously, my favourite part was watching the end scene; trying to say that in a way that doesn’t sound too bad! (Laughs) My mum was a massive fan of the movie, and she was always trying to get me to watch it. You kind of label these things as stuff that you’ll watch some other time. It was actually in my third audition that the director said to me “Michael, you’ve seen the film right?” And I’m like “Yeah, of course”, so he says “That’s fine, we’ll see you next time!” And I was thinking that I’d better go and watch the film now for the first time! (Laughs) I saw it and really enjoyed it. The bits that stand out for me are (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, because you go on this journey with the characters and it’s just a defining moment that brings everybody together. It’s pretty special.”

Kira: “Time Of My Life is a great song and it makes for a great dance scene. But for me, I can’t help but feel really passionate about the scene, and it’s also one of my favourites to perform on stage, where Baby admits to Johnny for the first time that she loves him. You vouch for them and you want them to be together throughout the show, he doesn’t want to be with her but she wants to be with him, at a time when women weren’t so forward with approaching men in that sense. So, she goes into his cabin and, after all this, they do end up getting together. It is just such a tense moment because he’s trying to get her out and she wants to stay there.”

Are there any scenes that the audience should particularly look out for?

Greg: “The dance lesson scenes are the best for me because they show that progression; she’s on a mission that he didn’t want to get into. The soundtrack too makes that moment iconic, from when he throws his jacket to when they end up in the water.

Simone: “As a dancer myself, I would have to say the major dance scenes. The Mambo is classic, and pretty awesome to see on film. I do love the contrast from light to dark.”

Are there any moments that you find it nervous to perform for any reasons?

Michael: “Well, it’s fitting with Greg about to perform in his hometown. The scene that I get nervous for in a funny way is in the Second Act, when Neil walks in on Johnny and Baby goofing around and having a bit of a laugh. It’s obviously completely forbidden for them to be together, because he would get fired and she would get the scolding of a lifetime. So, Neil walks in, and it’s Greg’s mission to make me laugh every time …”

Greg: “I don’t know what you’re talking about! (Laughs)

Michael: “Trying to keep a straight face with this kid on stage is a challenge! Greg is fantastic and plays Neil so well, but he is just so funny that I have to try and remain in character. Obviously, Johnny doesn’t find any of this funny and he’s on the brink of punching this guy in the face. But as Michael …”

Greg: “He still wants to punch me in the face! (Laughs)

Kira: “There is one moment that is quite vulnerable for me as a performer and a character as well. It’s in the bedroom scene where Johnny finally lets go and let himself be with me, but he takes her top off and actually does that on stage. That’s quite a moment for me, where he could pull my bra off by accident (laughs), which has happened before. It’s an iconic moment from the film, but it’s also a very vulnerable moment as well. It’s quite emotional as well, from when they come back to the room after Penny has had the botched abortion; from that towards the end is a very emotional section.”

Greg: “It’s probably the same scene as what Michael said. In the first half, most of my scenes are set to music, so when I’m speaking, I can still move it around and keep everything fresh, but it has to be in time. In the second half, there’s a lot more freedom. When I come into that scene with Mike, you never really know what is going to happen, and because we can listen to each other and react, there’s a fresh moment every night, especially when we come to Liverpool. Last time, the crowd proved that they will just shout stuff. In that particular scene, I made it aware that the ladies liked Johnny, and one woman shouted out from the stalls “We love you too Neil!” (Laughs) It was louder than anything, and trying to keep a straight face was very hard! That scene sometimes provides unprescribed audience participation! (Laughs)┬áIt’s a bit of a boon sometimes, and we have to play it by ear. But we love that improvisation, trying to carry on and react!”

Simone: “I feel like mine is lesser than everyone else’s! For me, it’s probably doing the Mambo for two reasons: it’s me and Johnny on stage dancing, and also everyone around us watching. I feel like it’s more nervous when your peers are watching than the audience because you know these people. But everybody is so encouraging, so it’s nerve-wracking and comes out of nowhere, but it’s good. Also, the scene before I have the abortion where I’m trying to work out what to do with my pregnancy. I think it’s very touching, with having a background of knowing what people have to go through and honing into those emotions. You don’t want to over-dramatize it sometimes, but you also don’t want to make it like it’s not an issue, especially as it’s quite an emotional topic with people right now. So, I try to really grasp those feelings of what people would go through, and afterwards I have to shake myself off to cool down.”

Finally, why should the Liverpool audience come to see Dirty Dancing?

Michael: “I always like to say this because it’s very true, and unique and special to this show: for people that have watched the film at home, loved the characters, watched the story, and ever thought that it’s just not enough and you wish that you would have been at Kellerman’s with those characters, then please come and watch the show because that’s exactly what we provide here. You see the whole big picture, not just the small snippets from the director’s perspectives. We’ve got a live band on stage, amazing singers, and an entire cast of fabulous artists. So come along, join us at Kellerman’s and have the Time Of Your Life!”

Greg: “Also, you get to see Michael O’Reilly’s bottom! (Laughs) That could be something you’re interested in!”

Kira: “I think Michael pretty much said it all, really. We get such great responses from everyone; they’ve had such a great time, and you can hear that on stage. And we’re in Greg’s hometown, so we’ve got a local boy that you need to come and support!”

Simone: “It’s a celebration of life! (Laughs)

Dirty Dancing runs at the Empire Theatre from Monday May 6 to Saturday May 11. To book your tickets, click here.

For further details about Dirty Dancing, click here.