Entertainment & Arts

Dirty Dancing tour criticised for using 'backing track'

Dirty Dancing cast in 2006 Image copyright PA
Image caption The original 2006 West End production starred Georgina Rich as Baby and Josef Brown as Johnny (neither actor is associated with the current tour)

A touring version of Dirty Dancing has been criticised for cutting musicians and using a recorded backing track.

The Musicians' Union has threatened to protest outside the show, which begins its UK tour in Blackpool on Thursday.

It says the production features five musicians, whereas previous productions have employed eight.

The show's producers have refuted the claims, saying the union was making a "crude attempt" to "prejudice the audience against our production".

Paul Elliott said Dirty Dancing had never been billed as a musical, as "none of the leading characters sing", and the music was primarily used as an underscore.

In a statement, he called the production a "play with music", and said it had always featured at least 40% pre-recorded music.

"We do not refer... to the production as a 'musical' and always request that it is not advertised as such," he added.

The Musicians' Union said the dispute arose when Elliott and his co-producer Karl Sydow approached them about getting rid of the show's band completely.

The union objected, which it claimed had resulted in the show adding five actor-musicians to the production.

"There seems to be not a great deal of clarity about how much [the actor-musicians] do on stage compared with the recording," said Horace Trubridge, assistant general secretary at the union.

"We suspect the majority of what the audience hears is the recording made in Italy."

Elliott responded that, while the show had been redesigned for smaller venues, "the performing company is the same size as before, so audiences will be given the same artistic value".

The producer, whose West End credits include Buddy - the Buddy Holly Story and Stones In His Pockets, added he could not see a problem with using a "fully-licensed backing track from Italy in the UK".

He added: "Many other shows have used tracks on tour - many without employing any live musicians - without their producers suffering any of the current actions of the Musicians Union towards Dirty Dancing".

The dispute comes two years after The National Theatre was sued by five musicians who were dropped from the West End production of War Horse.

Although the Musicians' Union held protests outside those shows, and the BBC's War Horse Prom, the players eventually failed to persuade a court they should be reinstated.

Dirty Dancing, about a 17-year-old girl who falls for a dance instructor during a family holiday, is one of the biggest independent films of all time.

The stage production debuted in London 10 years ago and was, at the time, the fastest-selling show in West End history, with more than £11m in advance sales.

A touring version has been in production since 2011.

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