Lewis Kirk recently took over as Johnny Castle in the UK touring production of Dirty Dancing, having previously understudied the role.
His previous theatre credits include playing Fender and understudying Link Larkin and Corny Collins in Hairspray (UK tour), Our House 10th Anniversary Concert (Savoy) and Soho Cinders (Soho). He also appeared in Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Misérables (Working Title Films).
I recently spoke to Lewis about taking over as Johnny, how the role affects his lifestyle and why he loves the extreme audience reactions…
How did you feel when you were asked to take over as Johnny?
Oh it was great! I had done a little stint when I first joined the tour because the actor who previously played Johnny was injured. I took over for a few weeks and to get all that experience was such a good way into the show. Then I went back to my ensemble track and did the odd, occasional Johnny show. To get offered the role was just lovely! It’s such a good role to be playing and I’m really enjoying it!
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but the film is so iconic and everybody loves Patrick Swayze’s performance, so how did you feel when you first took on the role? It must have been slightly daunting!
They’re such big shoes to fill! It’s the same for anyone who plays this role because everyone coming to see the show has Patrick Swayze in their mind and that’s what they want to see up on the stage. For me it’s a tough one; it’s about going back to the film and bringing out Patrick Swayze’s style which gives the audience what they love and know, but then you also have to put your own twist on it and create your own character with your own thoughts and feelings. The lines are all from the movie but you can add your own interpretation whilst keeping it true to the film.
Does playing the role affect your lifestyle?
Well do you know what? I would love to go to the gym but I haven’t actually had any time because we’ve been in rehearsals! In terms of stamina, this show is a big one. I go into the mambo at the top of the show and then we go straight into 'Do You Love Me' and then into ‘'Love Man' – it’s a big section of dance right at the start of the show. Then as Johnny you’ve got all the rest of the dance numbers like Sheldrake and then right at the end you’ve got ‘Time of My Life’. Going into this role has really built up my stamina, when I used to understudy going on was a shock to the body [laughs]. It is a life changing thing, also in terms of your profile – people find you on Twitter and want to talk to you, it’s a nice thing.
Jessie Hart is brand new to the cast as Baby, what has she been like to work with?
She’s a really, really lovely girl! She brings a completely different twist to her interpretation of Baby. I worked with Rosie (Roseanna Frascona, who played Baby in the previous cast) quite a bit and it’s nice to keep things fresh. It changes the way I play certain things in terms of reacting to how Jessie does things.
How’s life on tour?
I think the casting process is so good because everybody working on the show is really lovely. Everyone working backstage is very friendly, it’s such a supportive company – especially when I used to go on as understudy everybody really supported me. We live together, work together and see each other every single day – it’s a family. When you’re touring around the country together you end up like a family because you’re together all the time which is great!
What is Dirty Dancing’s secret? Why do people come back again and again?
I think it’s such a good feel good show which also has a place in people’s hearts. There are the mums who saw it when it first came out and then passed it down to their daughters who are already passing it down to their daughters. If you do come to the theatre and have never seen the film or have never been to the theatre then there’s the whole live aspect – the band playing all the music people love from the film and have heard on the radio time and time again. They’re such great songs and you have the amazing live singers singing those songs. Then you’ve also got incredible energy from the audience, each and every venue is different and brings its own vibe. As a performer, coming out every night and feeling the buzz is lovely. All the iconic moments from the film are brought to the stage, sometimes you get people saying the lines along with you whilst you’re trying to do the scene [laughs] – you’ve got to try and beat them to it!
Do any audience experiences stand out?
I did some shows in Liverpool, at the end I come through the auditorium for ‘Time of My Life’ and you have to sort of jump over this fence. I went to jump over this fence and someone grabbed my bum [laughs], you do get a few wondering hands. The heckles are always interesting, sometimes you can’t make out what they’re saying but when everyone around them is laughing you know it was a good one [laughs].
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
The UK Tour of Dirty Dancing is currently booking to 17th October 2015, playing theatres in Nottingham, Plymouth, Bradford, Canterbury, Norwich, Aberdeen and Llandudno. Please visit www.dirtydancingontour.com for further information, full tour dates and tickets.
Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton