Triangle Arts and Entertainment – News and Reviews Theatre Dance Music Arts

1987’s Beloved “Dirty Dancing” Is Just as Timeless Onstage

Christopher Tierney and Gillian Abbott star as dance instructor Johnny Castle and his prize pupil Frances "Baby" Houseman in the North American tour of "Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage" (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Christopher Tierney and Gillian Abbott star as dance instructor Johnny Castle and his prize pupil, Frances “Baby” Houseman, in the North American tour of “Dirty Dancing” (photo by Matthew Murphy)

The iconic film Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, has been a favorite among audiences since it first premiered in 1987. And, despite the years that have passed since its release, it’s still popular, especially among the female demographic. Its simple-but-sweet story, in which true love trumps all is classic, timeless, and happy- the kind of thing audiences want to believe in- so it makes sense for the film to remain popular…and for it to be adapted into a stage play.

That stage play (of the same name), adapted by Eleanor Bergstein and onstage now through Broadway Series South and under the direction of James Powell, sticks very closely to the beloved film, making the stage version just as easy to fall in love with.

Set in the summer of 1963, the story revolves around precocious Frances “Baby” Houseman (Gillian Abbott) and rough-around-the edges Johnny Castle (Christopher Tierney). Baby and family are spending their summer vacationing at ritzy (and cheesy!) Kellerman’s, a resort for the rich and elite. This is also the resort where Johnny and his “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” friends work as dancers.
Baby and Johnny’s worlds collide through a series of events- many of which are fueled by Baby’s desire to make the world a better place. As a result, Johnny ends up teaching Baby to dance (and more), and Baby teaches him a thing or two as well. The result is an endearing and enduring love story that’s a lot of fun to watch.

Set designer Stephen Brimson Lewis does an awesome job of bringing the many different “worlds” of the show to life. Through projection screen technology, stage action is able to visibly take place in the great outdoors. Also, the swanky atmosphere of Kellerman’s is realized through soft lighting, ritzy music, and spiffily dressed staff and patrons. Conversely, on the “staff only” side, bold colors, noise, and bright lights work to show the stark contrast between the two places…and between the lives of the two main characters.

No matter which “world” the characters are in at a given time, Michelle Lynch’s amazing choreography always shines. Sultry choreography and gorgeous background vocals (Jennlee Shallow) are present from the very start. Many of the dance numbers also manage to “speak” volumes about what’s going on between the characters, every last one of whom is fully realized.

Tierney is an excellent choice for the role of Johnny Castle. He even models his voice and inflection off of Patrick Swayze (either that or he just really sounds like him). Either way, from the moment Tierney-as-Johnny walks in- all dressed in black- it’s obvious he has the strut, the slick look, and the matching slick attitude that the iconic character calls for. Tierney oozes sex appeal with his deep, guttural voice, making him an easy audience favorite.

Likewise, Abbott has just the right amount of cuteness and charm to make her a perfect Baby. While some of her early delivery is a bit flat, Abbott really nails the role later in the show, proving herself to have a knack for physical comedy, as well as a killer giggle.

Together, the pair has great chemistry, and they aren’t the only ones. Baby’s family relationships play roles in the plot as well, and Abbott has a particularly good working dynamic with the actor- Mark Elliot Wilson- playing Baby’s father. The two characters share many tender moments, resulting in a fully realized relationship. As Dr. Jake Houseman, Wilson gives the role just the right touch of sternness and gentleness and really drives home how father and daughter come to a real and deep understanding of one another during this life-changing summer.

And while there are plenty of tender moments in this beautiful story, the script is not so saccharine that it neglects the “real world.” Baby and Johnny are constantly faced with intrusions into the world they are building together- the intrusion of others and their opinions, as well as the “intrusion” of the turbulent political times. The historical narrative that runs throughout- it’s the summer that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech- intertwines tellingly with the economic inequality and disparity that exists between the two main characters and their respective lives.

As with any goods 80s flick (or 80s-based play), there’s a happy ending in sight for these characters, and it’s one that the audience will have a lot of fun reaching. Both fans of the film and newcomers to the story (if such people exist) should find much to love here, and underneath it all, there’s also a sort of lingering nostalgia for youth and first loves that causes this play to resonate with all.

Christopher Tierney and Jenny Winton star as Catskill resort dance instructors Johnny Castle and Penny Johnson in "Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage" (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Christopher Tierney and Jenny Winton star as Catskill resort dance instructors Johnny Castle and Penny Johnson in “Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage” (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Broadway Series South presents DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9-11 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 and 13 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $25.14-$105.14, including fees.


BSS Box Office: 919-996-8700 (information only). Tickets are primarily sold through Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) and at the Duke Energy Center Box Office, on the Wilmington St. side of the center.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-996-8707,, or

SHOW: and


THE TOUR:,, and







NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10th, performance.


Dirty Dancing (1987 film): (Turner Classic Movies), (Internet Movie Database), (Facebook page), and (Wikipedia).

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage (2004 Sydney and 2006 West End musical): (official tour website) and (Wikipedia).

Eleanor Bergstein (screenwriter and playwright): (tour bio), (Internet Movie Database), (Wikipedia).

James Powell (director): (tour bio) and (Internet Broadway Database).

Michele Lynch (choreographer): (official website), (tour bio), and (Internet Broadway Database).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click To read more of her writings, click and

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews