×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage

"Dirty Dancing" rolls into town with more lights and machinery than Barnum & Bailey.

With:
Johnny Castle - Josef Brown Frances "Baby" Houseman - Amanda Leigh Cobb Penny Johnson - Britta Lazenga Dr. Jake Houseman - John Bolger Marjorie Houseman - Kaitlin Hopkins

The touring stage incarnation of “Dirty Dancing” rolls into town with more lights and machinery than Barnum & Bailey — an odd fate indeed for a wispy, nostalgic coming-of-age story grown into cult status after decades of TV showings. Though 1987 pic’s trappings are reconstructed with ruthless fidelity, what was engaging onscreen undergoes predictable coarsening when overmiked on the vast Pantages stage. Addicts will doubtless get what they come for, but for the uninitiated, a DVD rental wins out in the cost, convenience and heart departments.

While 1980s cinema probed 1960s male adolescent sexuality through the leering likes of the “Porky’s” trilogy, scribe Eleanor Bergstein and helmer Emile Ardolino took the decade’s gals seriously in the person of daddy’s girl Frances “Baby” Houseman (Amanda Leigh Cobb, cloning original star Jennifer Grey), whose spring awakening occurs during a Catskills summer vacation circa 1963.

Baby leans vaguely left despite unfamiliarity with the working class, a problem remedied as superhot lead dancer and disaffected loner Johnny Castle — Josef Brown channeling Patrick Swayze with an irritating Aussie accent — teaches her how the other half lives and how dirty it dances (more or less ritualized groping to a mambo beat).

In translating screenplay to stage first for Australia and then worldwide, Bergstein retains its tart, smart observations of interclass tension and family strife. But what worked in closeup is here vulgarized and distorted, even when the shrill Cobb and mumbly Brown can be understood, which isn’t always. Attempts at sweetness are dutiful but largely vacant.

Show placates the fanbase by re-creating, doggedly if not admirably, every single pic location and transition, leading to some really odd traffic patterns. Autos and footbridges are painstakingly hauled in and out, and turntables grind full sets into view for seconds-long use. (One particularly phallic log descends from the wings for Baby and Johnny’s cha-cha practice.)

All this literalism adds little fun while padding pic’s running time by nearly an hour. It’s also not fun to see likable film characters reconceived as buffoons or harpies under James Powell’s direction, though Kaitlin Hopkins stands out with a fully realized, sympathetic portrayal of Baby’s understanding mom.

But one quickly realizes it’s not about the people, it’s about the music and dance as 55 (count ’em) tunes are sung or underscored, mostly dating from the period with the inclusion of the odd 1980s sore thumb like “Hungry Eyes.” The hard-working, youthful cast shines it on in number after number, though Kate Champion’s dances often seem muddy against Jon Driscoll’s overly busy video walls and under Tim Mitchell’s lighting.

Finally, after a rocky and sometimes soporific 2½ hours, Johnny strides down the aisle to pull Baby (nobody puts her in a corner, or hadn’t you heard?) into the Oscar-winning strains of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” With Kenny Ortega’s original choreography honored if not literally repeated, the stories get efficiently wrapped up and all the excitement is finally justified. You probably won’t have the time of your life at “Dirty Dancing,” but the last 15 minutes may make you think so.

Popular on Variety

Dirty Dancing -- The Classic Story on Stage

Pantages Theater; 2,703 seats; $98 top

Production: A Jacobsen Entertainment in association with Lionsgate and Magic Hour Prods. of a play with music in two acts by Eleanor Bergstein. Directed by James Powell. Choreography, Kate Champion.

Creative: Sets, Stephen Brimson Lewis; costumes, Jennifer Irwin; lighting, Tim Mitchell; sound, Bobby Aitken; music supervisor, Conrad Helfrich; music director, Martyn Axe; ballroom and Latin choreography, Craig Wilson; video and projection design, Jon Driscoll; production stage manager, Glynn David Turner. Opened, reviewed May 10, 2009. Runs through June 28. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Cast: Johnny Castle - Josef Brown Frances "Baby" Houseman - Amanda Leigh Cobb Penny Johnson - Britta Lazenga Dr. Jake Houseman - John Bolger Marjorie Houseman - Kaitlin HopkinsWith: John Antony, Jamie Bayard, Timothy W. Bish, Thea Brooks, Karen Burthwright, Molly C. Callinan, Katlyn Carlson, Theresa Coombe, Joseph Costa, Jonathan Epstein, Ryan Farrell, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Haley Henderson-Smith, Michael W. Howell, Darina Jeleva, Travis Kelley, Lauren Klein, Michael Lluberes, Charles Logan, Gary Lynch, Lauralyn McClelland, Erich McMillan-McCall, Ben Mingay, Storm Newton, Adam Overett. Samuel Pergande, Andrew Pirozzi, Sarah Skogland, Easton Smith, JD Aubrey Smith, Billy Harrigan Tighe, Aspen Vincent, Emily J. Williams, Candice Marie Woods.

More Legit

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Saturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

  • Ben Platt Variety Power of New

    Ben Platt on Coming Out and the Queerness of 'The Politician'

    Ben Platt never imagined he would one day star in a series like “The Politician.” “I didn’t think I could be a star of a show in general starting out. I think I was like, ‘I’ll do Broadway. I can be on stage and I can play Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Nathan Detroit [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Musical to Open on Broadway in Summer 2020

    “MJ,” a musical based on the life and career of Michael Jackson, will open on Broadway in summer 2020. Preview performances will start July 6 before its official debut on Aug. 13. The stage show, which will include songs like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “Smooth Criminal,” was originally [...]

  • The Wrong Man review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Wrong Man'

    Credit songwriter Ross Golan for the seamless quality of “The Wrong Man,” his mesmerizing musical about a good man who deserves a good life but seems to attract nothing but bad luck. The show’s inventive book, music, and lyrics were all penned by this multi-hyphenate talent who was named 2016 BMI Pop Songwriter of the [...]

  • Kristin Chenoweth Broadway

    Listen: Kristin Chenoweth Wants to Write a Broadway Musical

    Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t just want to star in Broadway musicals. She’s thinking about writing one, too. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I think about it a lot,” Chenoweth said on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I want someone to collaborate with me on a story I have, and it would be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content