BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING at the Eccles is Eye-Catching and Heart Stopping
The national tour of DIRTY DANCING at the Eccles Theater is eye-catching and heart stopping with fantastic talent.
DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE is a rare big-budget straight play that heavily relies on music and dance in its storytelling. Written by original screenplay writer Eleanor Bergstein, it features music from the 1987 film and additional music of the period. We meet protagonist Frances "Baby" Houseman when she arrives to vacation at a resort in the Catskills with her family in 1963. While there she meets hotel employee Johnny Castle, who teaches her to dance and shows her the time of her life.
This excessively cinematic adaptation attempts to slavishly recreate the look of the film. This often results in stunning visuals, but it also stilts the flow and theatricality of the piece. In contrast, the storyline is often punctuated by long musical numbers and dance performances that bring a heightened reality and theatricality incongruous with the aforementioned cinematic approach.
Still, the visuals are often wondrous to behold, with a set from Stephen Brimson Lewis that is cleverly utilized, pleasing to the eye, and paired well with striking realistic video and projection design from Jon Driscoll. This is all lit to great effect by lighting designer Tim Mitchell and filled with a brightly colored contemporary interpretation of period fashion from costume designer Jennifer Irwin. Also noteworthy is the crystal clear sound design from Bobby Aitken.
The choreography by Michele Lynch (originally by Kate Champion) is exciting and well executed by the cast, including an outstanding ensemble. The only quibble might be that the dancing meant to be amateurish as part of the storyline looks forced due to the high caliber of their training.
Also strong in their scene work are Baby's parents, as played by Jon Edward Powell (Dr. Jake Houseman) and Hannah Jane McMurray (Marjorie Houseman), and Johnny's friend Penny Johnson, as performed by Jennifer Mealoni Jones.
DIRTY DANCING plays the Eccles Theater for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 25, 2017. For tickets, call ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS (2787) or visit www.artsaltlake.org.