Stage adaptations of popular films have gotten trendy as of late (see Ghost, Sister Act, The Little Mermaid, ad nauseam), so it’s no surprise that Dirty Dancing, the 1987 smash hit film, would get in on the trend. What is surprising, however, is that instead of just rehashing the film and adding a bunch of catchy-if-pointless songs, Eleanor Bergstein’s version, directed by James Powell and onstage now at DPAC, renders the story even more charming and enjoyable.
Set in the summer of 1963, the story focuses on Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jillian Mueller). Young and idealistic Baby and her family are all set to spend a lighthearted summer at Kellerman’s estate, a ritzy establishment that offers games and dancing for its guests. When Baby gets caught up with the crowd of workers at the estate, she has to make some tough decision for herself about right and wrong. She also just so happens to meet and form a bond with Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande), a sultry dance instructor.
As the two rehearse and dance together, a special bond forms, one that shakes the class structure of Kellerman’s and of Baby’s entire world. As one can imagine, there’s a happy ending–after all Dirty Dancing is a love story at heart–but the predictability of this beloved story doesn’t take away from the fun.
Watching the pair fall in love is enough to make even the most jaded viewer remember the thrill and excitement of youthful passion. Plus, the music, which includes film classics like “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” sung by powerfully voiced soloists adds to the nostalgic, wistful quality of the show. Having the music serve as background to the play, rather than having the characters break out into song and dance makes the show more immersive and more true-to-life as well and also separates it from the musical-movie-clones that are so popular these days.
Mueller is charming as Baby, perfectly capturing her youthful mixture of naivety and strength. It also doesn’t hurt that she looks as much like Jennifer Grey, the actress who portrayed Baby in the film, as she possibly could without actually being Jennifer Grey. Pergrande holds his own as Johnny and features the same ripped abs that made all the girls swoon over Patrick Swayze back in the day. Baby’s family is also made up of strong performers, and their chemistry together creates a believable family dynamic. Mark Elliot Wilson hits just the right notes of kind and stern in his role as Dr. Jake Houseman while Caralyn Kozlowski makes for a wise Marjorie Houseman. Then, of course, there’s Emily Rice’s adorable turn as Lisa, Baby’s somewhat vapid but mostly just young sister.
Lightning-fast set changes keep up the pace and keep the audience from ever feeling bored while a little bit of “screen magic” allows outside scenes to take place, including the iconic “in the water” and “on the tree trunk” scenes. The characters even run through a field of realistic looking grass at one point.
Strong performances, a story that you can’t help but love, and a killer soundtrack that truly acts as a soundtrack add up to a big hit, one that’s got all those other movies-turned-stage-productions beat.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents DIRTY DANCING: THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE at 8 p.m. Sept. 19, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 20, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at DPAC at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $46.54-$167.48 (including fees), except http://www.dpacnc.com/events/special_offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1196389.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services/broadway_group_pricing.
SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/dirty-dancing and https://www.facebook.com/events/569240449858256/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/sights-sounds/videos/.
THE TOUR: http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DirtyDancingOnTour, and https://twitter.com/DDOnStage.
THE TOUR CAST: http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/about/cast/.
THE TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/about/creative/. DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/dirty-dancing-on-sale-at-dpac-on-june-28th.
SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Dirty Dancing (1987 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/18187/Dirty-Dancing/ (Turner Classic Movies), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092890/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/OfficialDirtyDancing (Facebook page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Dancing (Wikipedia).
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage (2004 Sydney and 2006 West End musical): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Dancing#Stage_version (Wikipedia).
Eleanor Bergstein (screenwriter and playwright): http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/creative/eleanor-bergstein/ (tour bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0075044/ (Internet Movie Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Bergstein (Wikipedia).
James Powell (director): http://us.dirtydancingontour.com/creative/james-powell/ (tour bio) and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=494839 (Internet Broadway Database).
Michele Lynch (choreographer): http://michelelynch.com/ (official website) and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=88923 (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 http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.