Dirty Dancing: Tricky Steps In Making Leap Fron Screen To Stage

dirty-dancing-004There’s a reason it’s called, officially, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage … rather than say, Dirty Dancing, The Musical.  What you have here is a live action screenplay that’s enhanced with music, both live and recorded, and a staggering production budget.  It’s an event.  A spectacular “have you seen it?” theatrical throw down.  So does it really matter that it’s also a multi-media smash up at the corner of Broadway and Hollywood?

I think it’s a pretty good bet that if you’re considering going to Boston’s Opera House between now and April 12th, you’ve seen the movie Dirty Dancing once, twice or several hundred times.  Since it’s release in 1987, the film has become a touchstone for millions of fans.  Eleanor Bergstein wrote from the heart, and from personal experience, when she penned the story of a sheltered little rich girl coming of age at a Catskill Mountain resort in the summer of 1963.  She’s now brought her “baby” to the stage, but the unique connection proves to be more of a curse than a blessing.

dirty-dancing-008She’s way too close to the material, and the folks behind the stage production don’t seem to understand the first thing about theater.  First of all, there’s this video screen that’s used to project scenes of the Catskills … but it also serves as an annoying and unnecessary jumbo-tron.  For the scene where our heroine, Baby, goes down to the staff quarters where the real dancing is going on, we’re left to watch the real-life dancers in front of the screen, and filmed images of them playing in back.  You don’t know where to look, and everything becomes a random paint swirl.  Lot’s of color, but where is it going?

There’s also a ridiculous amount of platforms and railings emerging from the stage floor for no particular reason.  You find yourself worrying about an actor or dancer accidentally being impaled by a renegade piece of scenery.

dirty-dancing-011The other problem is that everything, and I mean everything from the movie winds up on the stage.  Even the “lift lesson” in the lake is included with the help of an expensive, but ultimately cheesy, projection effect.  It’s like the text is so sacred that nothing can be changed.  Please.

I mentioned earlier that the show is filled with music, without actually being a musical.  It’s more like a soundtrack.  Classic songs are played over the state of the art sound system.  There’s no orchestra in the classic sense. When a scene calls for musicians, they play on stage … and there’s numerous opportunities in the “Kellerman” resort ballroom.  Only a handful of songs are actually sung by the cast, which is a shame, because there’s so much talent on stage you just know they could pull it off.

dirty-dancing-005The cast, overall, is quite strong … Amanda Leigh Cobb absolutely shines as “Baby.”  She’s vulnerable, geeky, and thoroughly winning in her transformation from daddy’s little girl to independent woman.

Josef Brown, an Australian dancer, has to step into the very large shoes of Patrick Swayze.  He is stunning to look at.  As an actor, well … he’s a very good dancer.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t get the part because he wowed the producers when they sat around a table reading lines.  He’s also so clearly not from around here … the accent cannot be Americanized.  They should have just made him Johnny Castle from Down Under (honestly, does it really matter where this character comes from? … other than the wrong side of the tracks).

dirty-dancing-017Speaking of amazing sights, Britta Lazenga looks like she checked in from another galaxy as Penny.  She’s impossibly thin, and long of limb.  A former member of the Joffrey Ballet, her intensity is striking … which makes it a bit of a stretch to see her as a hard luck hoofer.

For so much of the show, the action follows the movie so closely that you feel like you’re at the drive-in more than the theater.  Then, out of nowhere, as the show’s about to wrap up, it finally becomes a musical.  Ben Mingay, who plays a rather forgettable supporting role, suddenly gets his Bill Medley on and belts out (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.  The canned music is gone, the band is on stage, and the whole cast is singing.  What a concept!  It makes the signature lift between Johnny and Baby so much more meaningful and satisfying.  Sure, it’s about two hours too late … but at least it’s there.

Tickets for Dirty Dancing-The Classic Story On Stage are available at http://www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/

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