BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING - A Lackluster, Disappointing Version of the Iconic Film
Spectacular dancing, heartfelt story, brilliant actors, classic songs.... The iconic film, DIRTY DANCING had all the makings to translate seamlessly onto the stage. However, unfortunately, it failed to deliver on all accounts. Written and conceived by Eleanor Bergstein, who has little to no previous stage experience, DIRTY DANCING is a lackluster and disappointing version of the far superior original. Perhaps it would've been best to leave Baby in the corner.
If you lived in the 80s, then you know the film. Starring the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, DIRTY DANCING is a romantic coming-of-age story about 17-year-old Frances "Baby" Houseman who falls for the resort's "bad boy" dance instructor, Johnny Castle, while vacationing with her family in the Catskills during the summer of 1963. There are distinct class differences which force secret rendezvous in order to protect her family's social status and ultimate disappointment of her father. Although a little "cheesy" in concept, it worked on screen, mostly due to the undeniable chemistry between Swayze and Grey, the rebellious teenage theme, and the incredible dancing that left audiences cheering and signing up for the first available Salsa classes.
What worked in the film, however, didn't translate well on stage. Perhaps we lost much of the intimacy due to a larger stage version, or maybe because leads Christopher Tierney and Rachel Boone lacked chemistry necessary to bring their characters to life. Or maybe it was because this wasn't a musical at all, rather merely a play with occasional soundtrack bites or pre-recorded 60s standards -- that is, except for "Hungry Eyes", which, to my recollection was released in the 80s, not the 60s.
Sets were elementary at best and too hurried and dizzying for the stage; the video projections by Jon Driscoll were laughable at times, especially when trying to recreate the lift in the water scene; Michele Lynch's choreography (while dynamic dancers) was sporadic and busy; and the storyline was rushed which allowed no character development. One bad decision after another led to a all-around poor production which only gave audience members a bland recollection of the original film. And speaking of poor choices, Bergstein decided to add an additional element of Civil Rights where the cast sang "We Shall Overcome," which only served to distract and confuse the audience and had no place in the story.
The standout of the show, Rachel Boone gave an honest portrayal of "Baby" with her spunky, bright-eyed personality and dead-on resemblance to Jennifer Grey. Christopher Tierney, on the other hand, while he can gyrate with the best of them, gave a flat and unlikeable performance as "Johnny Castle" which didn't translate to the original heartthrob we loved in Patrick Swayze.
As Castle's dance partner, Penny, Jenny Winston delivered exceptional dances but lacked the acting experience to give depth to her character. Alex Scolari as Baby's sister Lisa, provided the only humorous scene of the night with her hilarious Hula song. The rest of the cast were merely going through the motions on opening night of this watered down version of the iconic film.
If, like me, you're a fan of the movie and enjoy watching successfully developed film-to-stage translations, then you will be disappointed. If, however, you have a vague recollection of the flick and just want to relive some of the famous scenes, then maybe you'll fare better. Either way, however, don't come to the show expecting to have "The Time of Your Life."DIRTY DANCING - THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE runs thru Sunday, May 22, 2016 at The Ohio Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit: http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy