Cast announced for Dirty Dancing – we talk to the leads!

Casting was announced this morning for the new tour the home-grown musical hit Dirty Dancing, and the leads are two emerging musical theatre stars in their first major leading roles: Kirby Burgess and Kurt Phelan.

Burgess (Sweet Charity, LOVEBiTES) as Baby and Phelan (Saturday Night Fever, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as Johnny Castle join the previously announced Mark Vincent in his musical theatre debut as Billy Kostecki, Johnny’s cousin. Baby’s father Jake will be played by Adam Murphy, and her older sister Lisa will be Teagan Wouters. Hotel owner Max Kellerman will be Mike Bishop and Neil Kellerman will be Gabriel Brown making his professional debut. In the role of Mr Schumacher is Barry Mitchell and Tito Suarez will be portrayed by Eric Rasmussen. The ensemble will include Erinn Arnel, Kyla Bartholomeusz, Charles Bartley, Aaron James Campbell, Amy Campbell, Anna Freeland, Kim Hudman, Elysha Manik, Sam Marks, James Maxfield, Chris Ostrenski, Hannah Stanton and Mitchell Woodcock.

Kirby Burgess and Kurt Phelan are Baby and Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing. Photo by Kurt Sneddon.
Kirby Burgess and Kurt Phelan are Baby and Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing. Photo by Kurt Sneddon.

“I’m thrilled to give Kirby and Kurt their first lead roles in a musical – they are certainly musical theatre stars of the future,” said producer John Frost.

Featuring hit songs including Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, Do You Love Me? and the iconic (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, Dirty Dancing has become one of the most popular musical productions of all time. The new production will play at the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 28 November this year, then Melbourne’s Princess Theatre from 4 March and the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from 27 May.

We chatted on the phone to Kirby and Kurt on Sunday afternoon, as they were gearing up for the big announcement day, a big deal, understandably, for them both.

“Until the announcement it’s like, it’s not real yet,” Kurt admitted laughing. Superstitious, he has a “very special bottle of champagne” he received a long time ago that he refuses to pop open until the announcement is made and he can get ready for the ride of a lifetime.

Kirby too is hanging out for today, but for a slightly different reason. “Ten years ago I got asked to  be in the show, and be in the ensemble, and the producers didn’t realise that I was 15 at the time. And when they found out, they thought it probably wasn’t the best idea to have a 15 year old dirty dancing on stage! It’s just bizarre to be playing the lead in the ten year reunion.”

irby Burgess as Baby and Kurt Phelan as Johnny Castle . Photo by Kurt Sneddon.
Kirby Burgess as Baby and Kurt Phelan as Johnny Castle . Photo by Kurt Sneddon.

“I was driving when I found out [I had been cast as Baby],” said Kirby, and I had to pull over because my partner Ben was in the car with me, distracting me.” He kept asking what her manager was saying until she pulled over and had the conversation, and then, she said, “we had to get out of the car and have a jump around and be excited.”

“I had an apartment full of sheet music for a cabaret I was putting together that I had to do in Mackay, and I just was really silent and still,” said Kurt, of his experience with that fateful phone call. “I couldn’t walk anywhere, because I had sheet music anywhere.. but I had a bit of a ‘whoo!'”

A fan of the film, (“major fans,” Kirby said, “Both of us.”) Kirby first saw the movie when she was about seven years old. “Because of the name I thought it was a dirty film,” she said laughingly, “so I had to watch it when my parents weren’t home! It kind of is a naughty movie for a seven year old I guess, but yeah! Major fan.”

Kurt remembers seeing the first production 10 years ago. “I was doing Saturday Night Fever at the time, so I was in the other dance musical that was on in Australia, and they came and saw our show, and we went and saw their show, and it was fantastic it watch it – and it blew me away how it is a play, rather than a musical.”

“Yeah, it’s a very unique show,” Kirby continued, “Because the leads actually don’t break into song at all, you have singers in the show that act as a soundtrack, as it is in the film.”

“People walk into the theatre knowing that they’re going to enjoy it,” said Kurt, “Because they’ve seen the movie, or they’ve heard about it, or it’s a cult classic, it’s stood the test of time.”

Congratulations, Kirby and Kurt! It’s finally real.

For more information about Dirty Dancing the Musical, or to book tickets, visit

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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