BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING - THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE is a Magic Moment
I know everyone will expect this review to begin with, "I've Had the Time of My Life," but I will skip that well-known song that serves as the finale to DIRTY DANCING and go back to the opening number which defines it so well as "This Magic Moment." The packed opening night crowd at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha enthusiastically responded to the 1960's musical that closely mirrored the popular film by the same name. They were ready with hungry eyes. This was something they knew and loved already.
Eleanor Bergstein, screenwriter for the "Dirty Dancing" film and book writer for the stage version, said she recognized a need for the stage version after seeing how people seemed to gravitate towards and cling to the film. It wasn't just the music or the dancing that resonated with the people: it was the infectious story of longing and youthful desire.
In the story, seventeen-year-old Frances "Baby" Houseman travels to the Catskill Mountains in New York with her parents and her older sister, Lisa, to spend their two-week vacation. While there, Baby meets Johnny Castle, the resort's handsome dance instructor. What begins as clumsy steps and an awkward relationship progresses into a more mature dancing style and relationship that are sure to disappoint her parents. Her father, Dr. Jake Houseman, ably played by Mark Elliot Wilson, expects much from his daughters. Meanwhile, Ivy League college boys wait tables and serve more than drinks to idle rich women on vacation.
James Powell directs a superb cast. Christopher Tierney perfectly embodies the iconic Johnny with his slicked back hair and rippling muscles. Gillian Abbott is spot on as the sweet and innocent Baby who soon shows she is more than bouncy curls and Daddy's little girl. Both Tierney and Abbott are strong dancers, impossible to tear your eyes away from... unless Jenny Winton is on stage. Winton, who plays Johnny's dancing partner Penny, is such a fluid dancer that she is inarguably the focal point on stage. These three are a magical triumvirate as they lead a versatile and accomplished ensemble. The dancing is the highlight of the show, sometimes invoking "Dancing With the Stars," and at others leaping straight out of a dance club.
Even without the great dancing, I would return to see DIRTY DANCING again for one reason: Trinidad & Tobago native Jennlee Shallow. Shallow, the female singer in the show, has one of the most exciting voices I have ever heard! Ryan Jesse, standing in for the role of Billy Kostecki/Singer, also deserved thunderous applause for his outstanding vocals in "In The Still of the Night." The two of them together were pure auditory pleasure.
Another impressive vocalist, Alex Scolari as Lisa Houseman, scored big with her offbeat, comic rendition of Lisa's Hula. Scott McCreary, portraying the quirky Mr. Schumacher, drew cheers with his over the top "Besame Mucho" routine. There were funny moments. There were moments that tugged at your heartstrings. There were songs for every occasion.
Not only did the music throw me back to the 60's, I was captivated by Costume Designer Jennifer Irwin's clothing choices....Bring back those halter top dresses with nipped in waistlines and full skirts, high-waisted shorts that zip up the side, and sleek sheaths of sumptuous fabrics worn by ladies with French rolled hair!
If you grew up in the 60's, or you wish you had, DIRTY DANCING will take you there.