BWW Reviews: DIRTY DANCING National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

By: Sep. 18, 2014

Based on the 1987 film of the same name, Dirty Dancing tells the classic coming of age story documenting a teenage girl's relationship with a dance instructor whom she encountered during her family's summer vacation.

The stage adaptation by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, which included almost the entire playlist from the film, first had its world premiere in Australia back in 2004. Although reviews were mixed, the production was a commercial success, selling over 200,000 tickets during its six-month run, which then lead to sellout runs in Germany, as well as London's West End.

Despite a cast of some fine young performers including Samuel Pergande in the Patrick Swayze role of Johnny Castle, Doug Carpenter as Billy Kostecki, and Jesse Liebman as Neil Kellerman, the most impressive aspects of the show to me were the electrical sets by Stephen Brimson Lewis, along with the video designs by Jon Driscoll, as well as the lighting designs by Tim Mitchell. I also felt it also had some clever transitions by director James Powell, some slick choreography by Michelle Lynch, and a very energetic onstage band led by Alan J. Plato. But overall, I just found the show itself to be very bland and forgettable! And I really don't mean to offend any of the talent involved here at all.

As common as criticism gets whenever these classic movies are adapted for the stage, you bring the films original screenwriter (Eleanor Bergstein) on board to adapt their own material when considering the fact that they have no background in the theatre along the lines of Patricia Resnick with 9 to 5 and Bruce Joel Rubin with Ghost. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule such as Lee Hall's Tony-Winning adaptation of his Oscar-Nominated screenplay for Billy Elliot: The Musical. But then again, sometimes they're just better off passing the reigns off to some more experienced playwrights, which is exactly how I felt about the adaptation Bergstein ended up doing for the stage, a carbon copy-and-paste job with dialogue that feels almost non-existent. The material here really should've been past onto a much more experienced playwright to do a much more interesting spin on it.

Not only that, but the songs as used in the show never even feel musical enough to warrant their place onstage, as they're used more as underscore. Again, they should have easily gone for some young new musical theatre writers on scene to write an original score that actually felt more integrated into the plot. And while the classic number '(I've Had) The Time of My Life' was indeed the most impressive moment of the show, it still made for a very anti-climatic climax.

Like I said, I did not by any means hate this production, and with all do respect to the talent involved, I just found the show to be a total bore. While there is no doubt at all that die-hard fans of the original movie will be eating this whole thing up (the crowd I was with actually went crazy for it), general audiences on the other hand, will most likely be forgetting it within the long car ride home.


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