An Oscar-winning ‘80s smash returns to exciting new life as the Segerstrom Center For The Arts presents Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage, the ultimate 3-D “movie” musical experience.
Film buffs will surely recall Dirty Dancing The Movie, the 1987 smash that made overnight stars of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray, sent not one but two Original Soundtrack Albums to the top of the charts, and won both the Oscar, the Golden Globe, and a Grammy for the chart-topping “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
Still, it’s probably only the most avid musical theater fan who can tell you that Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage debuted in the Land Down Under 17 years after the movie’s release, played five years in its first London West End run alone, and toured the U.S for a while back in 2008 before beginning its current National Tour this past summer.
If Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage has become a popular success where Footloose The Musical and Flashdance The Musical have not, it’s at least in part because unlike those other ‘80s screen-to-stage transfers, the Dirty Dancing creative team have opted not to mess with success. Not only does movie screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein once again get full writing credit for her autobiographical tale, no attempt has been made to “fit” the songs into a traditional musical format with characters singing their thoughts and feelings in place of dialog, and no new songs have been added as padding.
What audiences know is what they get, i.e. the movie almost scene for scene, told as cinematically as a live stage production can be, with its early ‘60s soundtrack recreated as it was on celluloid, albeit performed live by a fabulous onstage band and some amazing vocal talents, and with Jon Driscoll’s gorgeously video and projection design making this the next best thing to having a movie come to life right before your eyes in a legitimate theater.
The story is the same one that has captivated audience for nearly thirty years now, that of Frances “Baby” Houseman (Flashdance The Musical stunner Jillian Mueller), on summer vacation circa 1963 in the Catskills with her parents Jake and Marjorie (Mark Elliot Wilson and Caralyn Kozlowski) and older sister Lisa (Emily Rice).
It’s up there at Kellerman’s that the previously sheltered Baby falls hard for Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande), the resort’s resident dance instructor/hunk, and thanks to Johnny’s watermelon-bearing cousin Billy (Doug Carpenter), catches her first glance of the “dirty dancing” Johnny and his fellow entertainers do in their free time … and voila. Before you know it, Johnny has a new dance partner (and partner in romance).
Naturally the course of true love does not run smooth.
The creative team has included not only the film’s many hits, including “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey! Baby’, “Do You Love Me?’ and of course “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life,” but also smashes like The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me” and Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn King Of Fellow” (to which the movie team had been unable to secure the rights), adding up to well over three dozen of the early ‘60s Greatest Hits, including Top Forty singles made famous by Solomon Burke, Gene Chandler, Bruce Cahnnel, The Chantels, The Drifters, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Mickey & Sylvia, Otis Redding, The Surfaris, Doris Troy and Django Reinhardt.
Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage could not have come up with a more stellar pair of leads than Pergande and Mueller, who despite Johnny and Baby’s not singing a note, stand in quite sensationally for film stars Swayze and Gray, and never more so than when they start doing their dirty dancing thing.
Sharing acting-dance honors with Dirty Dancing’s two leads is leggy blonde dazzler Jenny Winton as Penny, with Jerome Harmann-Hardeman (Tito Suarez), the always delicious Kozlowski, Gary Lynch (Max Kellerman), Herman Petras (Mr. Schumacher), Rice (fake-bad singing up a Hawaiian storm), and Wilson offering topnotch support, as did swings Josh Drake and Michael Thomas Pugliese, stepping terrifically into the roles of Robbie Gould and Neil Kellerman on Opening Night.
Ensemble members John Antony (Moe Pressman), Rachel Boone, Amanda Brantley (Vivian Pressman), Rashaan James II, Joshua Keith, Michael Milton, dance captain Phoebe Pearl, Virginia Preston, Jennlee Shallow (Elizabeth), and Paul Victor are some of the finest dancers you will ever see on any stage, Broadway or otherwise, with Shallow gaining bonus points for her silky vocals.
Last but most definitely not least, the evening’s loudest ovation goes to tall, dark, and handsome young L.A. theater vet Carpenter, whose charming early scenes as watermelon boy Billy are but the prelude for a showstopping “In The Still Of The Night (I’ll Remember)” and for a thrilling rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” duetted with an equally stunning Shallow that provides the vocal backdrop for Dirty Dancing’s now iconic grand finale, prompted by the classic line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”
Swings Alexandra Matteo and Nicole Spencer are poised to step into various roles at a moment’s notice, as Drake and Pugliese did at last night’s performance. (Drake doubles as assistant dance captain and fight captain.)
The current national tour is a collaboration between the show’s original Australian creative team and a second string of “associates,” beginning with director James Powell and associate director Kasey RT Graham, who know both the original film and its characters like the backs of their hands and whose familiarity with the material pays off … and then some.
Still, if ever there were a musical where choreography is first and foremost, it is Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage, with original choreographer Kate Champion and associate choreographer David Scotchford giving the show’s dancers some of the most exciting footwork (and lifts) in town, and credit going also to ballroom & Latin choreographer Craig Wilson.
Music director Alan J. Plado conducts and plays keyboards in the tour’s Vegas-ready onstage band, with music supervision and orchestrations by Conrad Helfrich. John Miller is music Coordinator
Design elements are Broadway caliber all around. In addition to Driscoll’s stunning work (aided by associate video designer Emily Harding), kudos are due set designer Stephen Brimson Lewis and associate set designer Christine Peters, lighting designer Tim Mitchell and associate lighting designer Vivien Leone, and sound designer Bobby Aitken and associate sound designer Simon King, with an extra-loud burst of applause going to costume designer Jennifer Irwin and associate costume designer Dana Burkart and hair designer Bernie Ardia for their pitch-perfect period garb and dos.
Joel Rosen is production stage manager, Jamey Jennings is company manager, and Jason Juenker and Laura Dieli are production managers.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who went through the ‘80s and ‘90s with a VCR in their living room who didn’t at least rent Dirty Dancing, if not wear out VHS tape after tape, and the Dirty Dancing DVD has kept the movie alive in the decade and a half since then. Still, no repeat viewing can quite match the excitement of seeing it recreated live—and in the most realistic 3D ever—in Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
February 3, 2015
Photos: Matthew Murphy