BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING at Music Hall

"Dirty Dancing" subtitled "The Classic Story on Stage" may be entertaining for fans of the 1987 surprise hit movie. "Dirty Dancing" is kind of an odd duck of a stage presentation. It more or less mirrors its source material. The stage play has music and lots of dancing, but it would be hard to call it musical theater.

Two members of the ensemble, Jennlee Shallow and Doug Carpenter, are the designated singers of music from the film (mostly pop tunes from other sources) while the rest of the cast mainly acts and dances.

"Dirty Dancing" is a coming of age tale set in 1963 at Kellerman's Catskill Resort. A Jewish Doctor named Houseman from New York City vacations in the Catskills with his wife and two daughters, Jewish American Princess Lisa and social activist Frances nicknamed "Baby." The setting and the main characters are echoes from playwright Eleanor Bergstein's own formative years.

Baby (as played by Gillian Abbott) quickly becomes fascinated with the resort's summer staff and falls in love with the sexy male dance instructor Johnny Castle (Christopher Tierney). Johnny's dance partner, Penny (Jenny Winton) has become pregnant with the child of medical student and summer waiter no-good-nick Robbie (Paul Victor).

Baby borrows $250 from her father secretly to be used for Penny's abortion and she agrees to be Johnny's new dance partner while Penny convalesces. Predictably, the operation goes wrong and Dr. Houseman is summoned to save the day. Baby's secret is exposed. Dr. Houseman wrongly assumes that Johnny is the father of Penny's baby and forbids her from seeing him again.

Johnny decides that Baby is his girl and turns down overtures from an older woman who then accuses him of being a thief. Despite Baby's protests, Johnny is fired. The mix up is resolved in the final scene with the huge dance number from the film.

The stage version of "Dirty Dancing" has been around since 2004 playing in Australia, London, and on tour in the United States. It has made its author a bunch of bucks, but has yet to enjoy a run on Broadway.

With just a couple of exceptions, "Dirty Dancing is played on the stage floor with the action moving stage left to stage right. Scene changes are mostly handled with projections on a scrim. There are lots of people on stage doing lots of stuff. Dances tend to show lots of talented dancers doing their own thing. One perceives a generalized lack of focus. Stage action seems flat.

There are a number of places in the show that could benefit from original songs sung by the leading characters. Particularly in Act II, there are lines that sound like song cues only to have the actor wheel and exit the stage.

The actors all do their job in a workmanlike fashion, but one senses a lack of fire in some places replaced with shouting. The classic finale dance is worth the rest of the show and the audience responds with gusto.

Dirty Dancing continues its Music Hall Run through December 13. Tickets are available at http://theaterleague.com/kansascity/dirty-dancing or by telephone at 800.745.3000.



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From This Author Alan Portner

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