On Stage: Baby’s Back!

May 25, 2017

It’s almost like a perfect storm. Dirty Dancing is on its second national tour. But ABC unveiled its own version starring Abigail Breslin and Debra Messing, which revealed a post-Kellerman life for Baby and Johnny. And if you bought the original on DVD, you could have the time of your life this week.

But that’s neither nor there. Dirty Dancing opened at Heinz Hall Tuesday evening in true encore form, taking the audience back to the ’60’s, mostly via a musical score filled with magic moments.

Good news, folks. Fo those of you who are Dirty Dancing buffs, this particular tour has changed since the original musical version hit Pittsburgh in 2015…for the better.

Of course, it is fiercely loyal to the original script, except perhaps for fleshing out a troubled relationship between Baby’s parents. Oh, and there’s not a Mrs. Schumacher and a few other bits and pieces.

Actually this hybrid version strikes a nice balance between what you expect to see and the abstract theatricality of a stage production.

It moves along with the speed of today’s lifestyle, particularly in a well-staged opening that used rapid-fire dramatic threads as it depicted the start of the Kellerman mountain resort season. The set design kept the window shutters and scenic projections from the last production, but with more sophistication to accommodate the various settings, from a golf course to Johnny’s studio.

The band, very small, with only humans on trumpet, guitar and sax in addition to keyboards and a mostly electronic score, sat above all the action — sometimes a good notion, sometimes not.

So you have to be willing to forgive a few things along the way — the cast is also smallish and, for the most part, very young and exceptionally good dancers who wouldn’t need any lessons from Johnny and Penny. (Choreographer Michele Lynch, however, took full advantage of their abilities.) They are also very talented, with supporting players who have terrific vocal chops of their own. Chante Carmel (Elizabeth) and Jordan Edwin André (Billy Kostecki) wove in and out of their characters to take a deserved center spotlight on some of the most familiar songs.

And Max and Neil Kellerman (Gary Lynch and Matt Surges) didn’t resemble their movie counterparts, but had a great rhythm to their delivery. Could it be that we are slowly becoming willing to accept others in those iconic roles? In this case, the leggy Penny (Jennifer Mealani Jones) gets a “yes,” but the equally leggy and beautiful Marjorie Houseman (Hannah Jane McMurray) gets a “no.”

Which brings us to Baby and Johnny. This couple (Rachel Boone and Christopher Tierney) came the closest of any I’ve seen. Sporting the curly Baby wig, Boone really resembled Jennifer Grey, with Tierney less so, although he had a great, thick, tossable head of hair. What really set them apart, though, was their physicality. She had Grey’s tiny body and awkwardly endearing style down pat, while he had Swayze’s muscularity and deep vocal resonance. It was uncanny how they so closely resembled the film’s dance moves (even the log scene and the practice lifts in the lake), but left room for their own interpretation.

From The Watermelons to The Lift to The Dance that took Baby out of The Corner, they helped to breathe a new vitality to a treasured story and allow the audience to revisit a treasured time in their own lives…

 

 

 

 


On Stage: Baby and Johnny Dance Again

April 8, 2015

Dirty-Dancing

Now that Patrick Swayze is gone and Jennifer Grey’s career continues to be defined by it, Dirty Dancing has remained, for the past 28 years, frozen in time. Following the movie’s release in 1987, author Eleanor Bergstein chose to keep the story under wraps and only now has transmitted it to the stage, here a part of Pittsburgh’s Broadway Across America series.

Still frozen, in a way.

There are some things that people want to see virtually untouched by time, like Saturday Night Live reruns or a Tony Bennett concert or a ballet production of Swan Lake.

The musical theater version of Dirty Dancing has that kind of appeal, to recreate a movie that was a surprise hit in the ’80’s. It looked back to the ’60’s with a time capsule story about rebellious young lovers who get it on during the waning days of those family-friendly resorts in the Catskill Mountains, a sweet escape from city heat.

There were questions about the viability of a stage musical from the start. How would they recreate the lush green landscapes surrounding the lodge? Would they include the log balancing scene? How would they reconstruct The Lift?

Well, if that’s your bag, the producers have come up with snazzy sliding panels and projections to move quickly to each scene location. At the Benedum Center there are many greatest hits from the memorable score (I Had the Time of My Life, She’s Like the Wind, Do You Love Me?) and more to be added (Save the Last Dance For Me, Stubborn Kind of Fellow).

The musical playlist itself numbers 44 and the dialogue, which pretty much sticks to the original, just provides connecting links. If you have to put your thumb on it, this hybrid show should be called a dancical, although it doesn’t quite fall into a category that boasts Cats and Contact.  Besides, this Dirty Dancing could benefit by pumping up the cast and choreography (Michele Lynch after Kate Champion) for the kids’ dance numbers — it’s all a little too lean.

The cast, from a distance, looks and, more importantly, moves remarkably like the original cast. The details are almost an exact replica of the film, which may hamper the performers from letting loose.

Gillian Abbott (Baby) touches virtually all the bases — that deep little curve to her back when she dances, the signature moves up the steps.  Samuel Pergande (Johnny) even shares a Joffrey Ballet connection with Swayze, the first a company member, the latter studying at the school. But the technically proficient Pergande doesn’t have that prowling panther-like quality, the Swayze swagger that jumped off the screen.

Kudos to the leggy Penny (Jenny Winton, also a Joffrey alumnus) and a versatile ensemble that actually gets some big vocal numbers.

And to the audience that seemed to patiently take it all in, reliving a time in their own lives, just waiting for “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

And, finally, roaring at The Lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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