Based on the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing, a musical version of this romantic drama is now gyrating at the Academy of Music for a limited engagement through April 5th as part of its North American Tour. Originally starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, this low-budget film became a massive box office hit and was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video. The soundtrack generated two multi-platinum albums and the song, (“I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, won both the Grammy and the Academy Award for best original song.
It’s the summer of 1963 and “Baby” Houseman is vacationing with her affluent parents in the Catskills. There she becomes involved with Johnny Castle, a worldly dance instructor on the staff. A coming-of-age story about a young girl’s sexual awakening, it is a bittersweet tale of the loss of innocence and the discovery of first love.
However, not all great movies can make great musicals. Unfortunately, this is the case with Dirty Dancing. To make a musical work there has to be an engine -- a person who is the driving force that propels the piece forward. But there is no engine here. There is no one who comes into the play with “a mission”. Baby doesn’t come to the resort with a burning desire to fall in love or to find a man or to lose her virginity. (These would all be valid and active missions for a young woman in that era – besides wanting to join the Peace Corps.) Secondly, one of the primary rules of musical dogma is “that the leading characters should sing.” Baby and Johnny dance all night long – but they never sing a note to each other. This would be fine if we were at the ballet where the story is told exclusively through the dance. But in a musical – people need (and are expected) to sing at the emotional climaxes. Let’s face it – this piece is a good girl/bad boy romance and the audience wants to get their vicarious thrill too. One of the only emotional moments was when Doug Carpenter as Billy Kostecki (Johnny’s cousin) sings a stirring version of In the Still of the Night and he is only a peripheral character.
That being said, there are some exceptional performances. Jenny Winton as Penny Johnson, Johnny Castle’s dance partner, is a stunning dancer and a most sympathetic actress. Jennlee Shallow’s clarion voice stands out as she appears in the minor roles of Elizabeth/Singer/Ensemble. And though Samuel Pergande (Johnny) and Gillian Abbott (Baby) dance their hearts out all evening – it is not their fault that they do not win our hearts. It is, unfortunately, the fault of the structure of this musical adaptation.
For tickets call 215-731-3333 or go online at www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway.
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