BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING Comes to Life at the Landmark Theatre

BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING Comes to Life at the Landmark Theatre
Aaron Patrick Craven, Kaleigh Courts at center with the company of the national tour of Dirty Dancing. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The classic story of Dirty Dancing by Eleanor Bergstein comes to life on a national tour now playing Syracuse's Landmark Theatre.

The opening night crowd certainly had the time of their life watching the long-awaited musical, directed by Sarna Lapine. In fact, fans of the film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey will certainly not be disappointed by the musical adaptation because it stays very true to the film. Set designer Mikiko Suzuki Macadams transports us to the familiar Kellerman's vacation venue. The production also features all your favorite songs from the film, played by live orchestra under the musical direction of Jonathan Marro. So, yes - you will in fact hear "Hungry Eyes," "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," "Lisa's Hula," "In the Still of the Night," and "Kellerman's Anthem" just to name a few.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. In case you've never seen the movie or need a refresher, let me share a little plot summary. It is the summer of 1963 and Baby (Kaleigh Courts) is on vacation with her family. Unfortunately, she has very little interest in the activities planned throughout Kellerman's. She finds her own activities to pursue when she stumbles upon the entertainment staff at an all-night dance party. The pounding music, raunchy dance moves, and the sight of the resort dance instructor Johnny Castle (Aaron Patrick Craven) will help create the summer to remember for Baby. The summer is full of romance, growth, and (of course) dancing.

Many of the songs are sung beautifully by Erica Philpot and Nickolaus Colõn. Philpot plays Elizabeth/Singer and Colõn portrays Billy Kostecki - you know, the guy that Baby helps carry the watermelons. Their vocals - and chemistry with one another - are first rate. They deliver powerful, passionate, and professional vocal performances. However, there were a number of sound issues on opening night that will most likely be fixed for the upcoming performances.

However, since the creative team made the choice not have the lead characters burst into song, the viewing experience was a bit disappointing for this theatre fan. I felt like I was watching a film where there is a lot of background music rather than the traditional musical where everybody, especially the lead actors, belt out the tunes.

With this show you can truly say that you've seen the movie come to life on stage because it really does - there are the same songs, same lines, etc. You can expect to see almost every scene that is in the movie crammed into the live presentation - this means that the scene changes are non-stop. That being said, the well-designed set pieces and professional actors make the scene changes flow with ease.

The decision to put the movie onstage results in an entirely predictable - and sometimes dragging - viewing experience. There was one particular moment where I felt the decision to just present the film was a particularly bad one. Think about "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" where Johnny leaps off the stage. With a live musical such as this, one would expect it to be bigger and more powerful than the film. However, there was no impact. The group dance for that song was also disappointing.

The good news is that the touring cast has the looks, the dancing skills, and the attributes necessary to bring the familiar and well-loved characters to life in a believable way.

Kaleigh Courts stuns in the role of Baby thanks to her spunk, looks, and especially her comedic timing - all while wearing costumes (Jennifer Irwin) that are very similar to those used in the film. Courts captures Baby's passion, love, and devotion for dancing and Johnny Castle beautifully. This is especially evident as she dances with Aaron Patrick Craven to those familiar tunes.

Craven embodies everything an audience member expects to see in Johnny Castle. He is confident, cool, and looks like the perfect bad boy. He is, without a doubt, an excellent dancer. He effortlessly lifts Courts and guides her along as the "teacher." The chemistry between them is especially adorable as they practice "the lift" in that famous water scene. Again, fans of the film will not be disappointed with this casting.

Ana?s Blake is breathtaking in the role of Penny Johnson. She has the beauty, poise, and professional moves to pull off the character. She first enters the stage wearing a flowing and gorgeous red dress and she steals the spotlight from that point on. Her dancing is perfection. She makes the character her own.

Other memorable performances include Demitra Pace as Lisa Houseman. She sings "Lisa's Hula" with impeccable comedic timing. Erica Lee Cianciulli is lovely and confident as Marjorie Houseman. Christopher Robert Smith gives the character of Dr. Jake Houseman new life. Rick Grossman makes the perfect Max Kellerman. He is especially memorable as he performs that iconic scene featuring "Kellerman's Anthem" along with Torrey Linder portraying Tito Suarez. The supporting ensemble showcased their dance skills beautifully (choreography is by Michele Lynch).

However, without a doubt, Owen Russell delivers the most memorable performance as Neil Kellerman. He delivers the very familiar lines perfectly, but made them his own thanks to his natural comedic timing and charm. It was a relief to see him on stage because he tirelessly tried to make the character his own rather than delivering a complete replica of the film portrayal.

Overall, the tour of Dirty Dancing was highly anticipated in our area and I am sure fans of the film will be thrilled to see that it is, in fact, "the classic story on stage." On opening night many seemed pleased at seeing something they knew well - singing along and quoting lines. However, if you prefer traditional musical theater where all the characters sing rather than listening to what seemed to be more background music you will most likely be disappointed. You will be even more disappointed if you are looking for something new and a creative endeavor. It is a fun show, but nothing special for the discerning theatergoer.

Running time: Approximately two and half hours with one twenty-minute intermission.

Dirty Dancing plays at The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York through May 20, 2018 as part of the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse. For tickets and information on Dirty Dancing, click here. For information on the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse, click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley

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