Leanne Rowe as Baby in Dirty Dancing

Leanne Rowe as Baby in Dirty Dancing

As one of the most loved chick films of all time, Dirty Dancing had no choice but to be a hit at the West End, and Essex born Leanne Rowe has whipped up the lead role of Baby. Having the time of her life singing the songs she’s loved for years, Leanne took some time out to talk to Female First about her journey so far as an actress and how she mastered that famous lift.

So, well done on getting the part of Baby in Dirty Dancing. When did it officially start?

I’ve been doing it since October and I found out in July I’d got the part.

How did you celebrate?

Well I was in New York actually, I had to fly to New York for my final meeting so I celebrated by just going shopping. Loads.

Were your auditions in New York?

My auditions were over the course of a week. Auditions in London on Monday, then I had to go back on the Wednesday, I was offered another job on the Tuesday so they sorta sped me through the audition rounds because my other job had to know by a week later. So I auditioned, met all the people I needed to meet in London, like the director and everyone over here and then I flew to New York on the Saturday morning and met with Eleanor Bergstein on the Sunday; she’s the writer of the movie and put the show together. She’s the producer and has final say on verything. I flew to her office on the Saturday, met with her on the Sunday for the whole day, and I went through the whole script and then she told me then and there on the Sunday.

Did that audition take a long time?

Yeah I was with her for 9 hours on the Sunday.

So what was the job that you turned down?

It was another play.

What attracted you to Dirty Dancing over the other job?

I love the movie and it’s just a great role. It’s a lead in the West End which is a chance that doesn’t come around too often. I’m very lucky to even be considered for it and then to get that part, a lead in the West End, I’ve always wanted to be in the West End, and then that character in that show in the West End, I just couldn’t turn that down.

So did you have dancing training beforehand?

Yeah, I actually always danced when I was younger and then at 16, I was too young to go to drama school but you can go to dance college and musical theatre school and stuff so I went off and trained for 3 years and I trained in musical theatre and dance and did drama too at college and when I left, I kind of realised, do I want to go the dancing route or the acting route? And I chose the acting route. And so before I did the show I hadn’t danced for 7 or 8 years.

Are you planning on changing your route now?

No. I’m not, it’s the same. It’s just great to be able to do a job where I get to dance because normally I would never be going for it. Luckily they wanted an actress for the part, an actress who could dance. I wouldn’t be going up for solely dancing roles after this. I’m an actress first and foremost so anything in which I can dance as well is just great. I doubt that’ll ever come up again so that was another reason as well for taking this job. It’s great. I hadn’t danced for 8 years so it was a bit of a shock to the system to be honest but it didn’t take long to pick up again so it was okay.

What’s your favourite song in Dirty Dancing?

I don’t know! [FF: Is that a tough question?] Yeah! Because in rehearsals every time a new song would come on, I’d be excited. Probably hungry eyes or it could be Time of My Life depending on what mood I’m in I think.

Do you not get tired of hearing them every day?

What’s weird is that I don’t when I’m at work, that’s fine. What’s weird is that since I’ve been doing it, I’ve noticed that I hear the songs everywhere else, all the time. Every time I turn on the radio, there’s a Dirty Dancing song on. Or even like adverts on TV. Time of My Life is advertising a holiday package at the moment and then there’s Still of the Night which advertises beds so literally everywhere you go, you hear it and that’s annoying.

So how difficult is THAT jump at the end?

The lift? It’s difficult because it’s live theatre and anything can go wrong. I think at first when you start learning to do it, it’s quite daunting because it’s the bit that everyone waiting for and everyone knows. And if you’re not used to being lifted above someone head its quite scary. The scariness goes and it just becomes a part of your choreography but you can’t relax. If you relax, you fall out of the lift so you have to work every night to get it.

Did it ever go wrong in training?

Yeah when you’re first learning how to do it, it’s never perfect. And I mean, I’m almost not gonna say it in case it happens but touch wood it won’t. It could go wrong on stage one night. It hasn’t yet but there’s been time where it’s been a bit ooo ooo, but you have to correct it while you’re up there. Obviously it could go wrong anytime because it’s quite a tricky thing. Obviously you’re running at him, and he has to get his hands in the exact position and lift you, and you have to take off. And if you’re a second out, or his hand slips or if it’s not quite in the right position then it could go wrong.

So how would you describe the production in comparison with the film?

It’s pretty much the same because the woman who wrote the film adapted it for the film, and obviously Dirty Dancing has so many diehard fans, she wanted to stay true to the movie because fans just want to see like a live version of the movie. The only different thing about the live show is some extra scenes that aren’t in the film probably because they couldn’t fit them in editing so there’s some extra elements which weren’t in the original film. So if a fan had come to see the show and knew the film off by heart, obviously they could show off by heart, and also obviously we can’t do everything exactly the same. We can t do the lake scenes and stuff like that but the script is pretty much the same. But there’s just a gap to make it work for the stage.

If you were to meet Jennifer Gray, what would you say? She looks different these

It’s amazing how much one operation can change your whole face. Oh I don’t know what I’d say to her! It’d be lovely to meet her. We’d probably talk about the show. The only person we probably have in common is Eleanor who wrote it so we’d probably talk about her experiences filming it really and that kind of thing. Because you hear all sorts of rumours about people not getting on and stuff so I’d probably ask about her experiences with Patrick, but for her as an actress she’s probably done a million things since and that/’s the thing she’s always asked about so... Oh that’s a good question; I hadn’t thought what I’d say to her. I don’t think I’d have a clue! I’d see how she tried to shake it all off but really everyone still associates her with Baby and it’s a really hard thing for her to shake off I suppose.

What are you planning to do in the future?

I’ll just see what comes along. That’s the beauty in this job. You never know what’s around the corner and I never expected to be doing Dirty Dancing in the West End so hopefully, I just want to be working, that’s all you can hope for as an actor. Anything that starts after the show won’t be auditioning until nearer the time. So probably toward the end of my contract I’ll start auditioning for other things then, but at the moment, it’s a bit early to tell.

Finally, who is it that you look up to?

Actress wise I like, well I’ve just been looking at the Golden Globes and I think Kate Winslet is great. Anyone who really chooses what they want to do, and obviously every situation is different, but I really like actresses and actors who, throughout the years have really carved out their careers with things that interest them, not necessarily things for money. I think Kate Winslet and Judi Dench are great British actresses. Not necessarily people who will take anything. And obviously everyone’s different but I’d quite like to be able to do that. It’d be lovely to be able to pick and choose what you can do in your career. So everyone who does that I kind of admire.

By Karen Asbury