Dirty Dancing at Theatre Royal, Plymouth
FOR a theatre star from California, Plymouth seems a very long way from home. Yet actress Jill Winternitz is relishing the thought of her very first trip to Devon.
Jill is playing the lead role of Baby Houseman in the first UK tour of Dirty Dancing, so she will be spending three weeks on the stage of the Theatre Royal.
"I can't wait to come to Devon," said the bubbly actress during a break from her current run in Edinburgh.
"That is the good thing about this tour – I am getting to see lots of different parts of the country. I really enjoy the different accents and scenery and visiting your historic castles and stately homes."
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But isn't she missing the California sunshine?
"I am a bit," she admitted. "But I don't mind wrapping up warm and there are lots of other positives to enjoy."
And the main one for the 25-year-old RADA-trained actress is the role she is playing on stage.
"I love being a part of this production. It is the best job I could ask for," she says. "It is such a great role in a great story.
"Lots of people know and love the film, so it has a great fan-base. There is real love from the audience each night we perform. It is really special to be part of that."
Jill is starring alongside Paul-Michael Jones as Johnny Castle, the part made famous by Patrick Swayze in the smash hit movie.
"The tour is going brilliantly. It has been on for more than a year now but I only started when we reached Leeds six months ago," she said.
"It has been wonderful, packed every night, which I am grateful about and everyone gets on really well."
She does admit though that it can be quite nerve-wracking too, following in the footsteps of Jennifer Grey who starred in the 1987 film.
"I have fallen in love with the character. It is a great part for an actress and I am loving every moment of it. Of course there is a bit of pressure on us to perform, as the audience expect us to be Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey," she says.
"I do try to take the spirit of Jennifer and I am inspired by her, but I also try to bring something different to the part."
So how did she land the role? It certainly wasn't down to her knowledge of the film. In fact Jill admits she had never even seen it before she got invited to audition.
"When I told my friends about the audition they were full of excitement and I got caught up with all that. So I sat down and watched the film with my boyfriend and absolutely loved it," she said.
"In a way it's kind of cool that I had never seen the film as it has become a new favourite movie for me."
Jill also has had no formal dance training, so she has had to work hard to get up to scratch for such a demanding dance role. And she has her fellow star Paul-Michael Jones to thank for some of that.
"Paul comes from a trained dance background. His parents own a dance school in Rochdale and he has also represented England as a Latin American and ballroom dancer, so he was a great teacher," said Jill.
"I did a lot of dancing when I was young but trained as a classical actress, so this is my first ever musical. I was lucky as they were looking for somebody who could dance but not perfectly, because Baby obviously can't dance at the beginning.
"It really has been like life imitating art. Paul has helped teach me to dance just like his character does in the show.
"It has been hard work but I love it now."
Dirty Dancing is the story of a teenager who, during her summer break with her parents, falls in love with a dance instructor. The film has been a smash hit for the last 24 years.
The touring production has been written by Eleanor Bergstein, the script writer and creator of the film. It features all the much-loved characters and original dialogue with exciting extra scenes added in. The tantalising dance sequences and brand new choreography come alive on stage, set to all the hits from the unforgettable soundtrack, such as Do You Love Me?, Hungry Eyes and the Academy Award-winning (I've Had) The Time Of My Life, plus many more songs that weren't on the original recording.
For Jill, though, with her background in classical theatre, Dirty Dancing is unlike anything she has done before. Although her real aim is to get into television and film, she has loved being part of such a big show and wouldn't rule out doing another musical.
"In the past I have done a lot of classical theatre such as Hamlet and The Canterbury Tales, so Dirty Dancing is very different for me," she said.
"I am going to keep myself open for future roles and would definitely consider doing another big musical as I am having such an amazing time.
"I love getting different things out of different jobs. I love acting. It is really rewarding especially performing to a live audience and sharing something with the audience, it's magical.
"And at this production the whole audience gets really involved. They live the lives of the characters. And on Friday and Saturday nights it is a real party experience – a real fun environment to be part of."
More than five million people worldwide have now seen this production, with the London show alone having been seen by more than one million. This first ever tour has broken box office records across the country, making it one of the most successful tours in UK history.
Dirty Dancing plays at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, from Tuesday, January 22, to Saturday, February 9. For more information or to book tickets call (01752) 267222 or visit www.theatreroyal.com/dancing