Actor Lewis Kirk has really been having the time of his life after he unexpectedly had to take over the role of the leading man in the stage version of Dirty Dancing.
Lewis plays dance instructor Johnny Castle, the role made famous by Patrick Swayze in the the hit 1987 film. Johnny works at a resort in the US Catskill Mountains in the early 1960s, where he has a romantic liaison with one of the guests, the idealistic youngster Baby, played by Roseanna Frascona.
He’s a musical theatre actor who only graduated from drama school two years ago. He said: “I did Hairspray, then got this job. I was supposed to be in the ensemble.”
He took over the role from Gareth Bailey, who had to drop out when he badly injured his ankle. Lewis said: “I was called in for a rehearsal to help Roseanna learn her role. As the weeks went on, they realised the level of Gareth’s injury.
“I got thrown on at the last minute. It has been fun and the audiences have been absolutely great. I can tell they’re really listening and taking it all in. That’s nice as an actor, you really appreciate it.”
Lewis admitted: “I never expected to be going on in this role quite so quickly, although there’s always a chance it will happen.
“The chances of me going on without these circumstances would have been very different. I probably would never had had the run that I’ve had in the role.”
He said: “It’s a great part to play. Obviously it’s an iconic film. As an actor you want to give the audiences the character they crave. The audience are reluctant to see anyone other than Patrick Swayze in the role! You want to give them that and still make it your own.
There’s some great scenes with Baby and it’s a nice part to play, especially with the pay-off at the end. The audience are all with you when you come down the aisle to say: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. You also get to dance and show off your range.
He said that it is daunting to take on such a well-loved character.
“Sometimes people are quite reluctant to see other people do the role. Sometimes it’s quite hard to fill those shoes. It’s a nice part to play and give the audiences the film they love on stage.”
Lewis said that the audience isn’t just made up of the huge following of fans who saw the film when it first came out, though. “Women have passed it on to their children so there is a broad age group now.
“Some of the older generation know the film and love the music. That’s a big factor in the show, as it always was. I never get fed up of it, I find myself tapping my foot away as I’m waiting to go on.”
Lewis was introduced to the film himself by his three sisters, who all love it.
So how did he approach the role? “I’m just trying to be truthful and look to the experiences I’ve had. I’m from a working class background like Johnny and he’s a rebel as well. There’s times in my past when I’ve not been as good as I should have been.
“I’ve also got experiences of being in relationships that I can bring to it.
“He loves to dance and have fun in life, so I’ve tried to put that part of my personality in there.
“Johnny’s got charisma and swagger. It’s just nice to be able to bring that out on stage and have fun with it.
He added: “There’s always going to be a part of me, whichever role I’m in. As an actor it’s fun to make those different choices as well.”
Lewis said that the musical’s extended run at the Lyceum will give him a chance to get to know Sheffield.
He said: “It’s my first time in Sheffield and already I love the city, although I’ve not had that much time to explore.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all the things that make the city what it is.”
n A limited number of new seats have been released for the show at the Lyceum, which runs until May 3. To check availability, go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call 0114 249 6000.