Cabaret covers a broad range of concepts and means something different to many people. For Kurt Phelan cabaret is about truth. Although he already had an extensive career in the entertainment industry, Kurt Phelan shot to public attention as Johnny Castle in the Helpmann Award nominated musical, Dirty Dancing; the role made famous by Patrick Swayze in the original movie upon which the jukebox musical is heavily based.


Kurt Phelan with Kirby Burgess in Dirty Dancing

Playing the cool and sexy romantic lead garnered Phelan a huge number of fans, although being shirtless during the musical did result in a peculiar amount of attention directed at Phelan’s nipples from certain fans, particularly during the Brisbane season. Phelan said it seemed audiences would forget there was a real person playing that character night after night and he had some very strange stage door experiences with women even groping at his chest.

Apart from the challenge of potentially becoming paranoid from having your nipples on display for the woman talking about them in the front row, Dirty Dancing required Phelan to adhere tightly to the script, with no room for his own interpretation of the character. This was somewhat of a frustration for the NIDA graduate, who could identify some gaps in the character development of Johnny Castle of which he was not permitted to address.

The successful season of Dirty Dancing has come to a close and Phelan is now preparing the final touches to his cabaret show Phelan Groovy, which will premiere at Melbourne’s Butterfly Club tomorrow night. It allows Phelan to take off the mask of being a certain character and just be himself. Phelan has written the show, directed the show, worked on the orchestrations and of course, will star in it! It’s a show Phelan says he has been wanting to do “forever!”

“I used to write plays and perform them with my brother and sister for my family when I was about 5 or 6 years old,” explained Phelan.

Growing up in Ayr, Queensland (nearly 90km south-east of Townsville) wasn’t also easy for a young boy who danced and liked to perform. He was bullied and beaten – even being hospitalised. Sitting opposite me as we talk, is a very confident man who seems at peace with life.

As he wrote the story for Phelan Groovy, Kurt Phelan said the songs just naturally flowed. Phelan knows what style of cabaret he prefers.

“I didn’t want this show to be ‘and here’s the song I auditioned for Oklahoma with’ …” Phelan laughed.

Having the surname Phelan does lead itself to plenty of puns. It’s something he and his family have heard all their life – they all have various tag-lines to their surname. Kurt tends to be called Phelan-It.

Phelan now lives in Clovelly in Sydney. Rob Mills, currently starring in Ghost the Musical, the other movie in which Patrick Swayze starred, is also a resident of Clovelly and the pair often catch up when they’re both at home.

“I did consider calling my cabaret Surprisingly Better,” laughed Phelan, referring to Mill’s own critically acclaimed cabaret show, Surprisingly Good.

Kurt Phelan three images

Phelan says his show will be a night of fun and entertainment and something that will appeal to everyone. He’s discovered blokes who won’t go to the theatre will go to a cabaret show and really enjoy it (admittedly he thinks the bar helps!) Even some of his childhood bullies have apologised to Phelan – and bought tickets to see him perform.

Phelan Groovy is one hour show that provides audiences with a unique opportunity to get up close to this talented leading man of the stage and after the long season of performing as Johnny Castle, for audiences to hear Phelan actually sing. Phelan Groovy is described as “part biographical, part behind-the-scenes voyeurism and ALL entertainment.”

For the fans obsessed with Kurt Phelan’s nipples (#nipplegate) he’s leaving his shirt on for this show. It seems his nipples are way too much of a distraction.

Phelan Groovy is playing at the Butterfly Club from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th March.

For tickets:

The Butterfly Club 5 Carson Place Melbourne

8.30pm Tickets $25-$32

Kurt Phelan booking