1987 FILM NOW A MUSICAL BY ELEANOR BERGSTEIN, IS A CROWD PLEASER FOR THOSE WHO LOVE DIRTY DANCING
Fans of the Patrick Swayze film DIRTY DANCING are pleased with the musical of the same famed name. Faithful to her 1987 “Dirty Dancing” screenplay, Eleanor Bergstein, wrote the book for this musical live tour, directed by James Powell and now at the Golden Gate Theatre through March 30th. The crowd pleaser works best when the sold out opening night crowd recognized the scenes right from the film. Rachel Boone plays “Baby” and Christopher Tierney is the sexy Johnny; they both resemble Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze from the classic 1980s love story dance film. Not unlike “Footloose” DIRTY DANCING won many fans who still adore the film.
Bergstein says “As I learned how many people watched the movie over and over and over - I began to think that what they really wanted was to share more intensely in the event, to step through the screen and be there while the story was happening. And if that was true, then its natural form was the theatre – audiences watching live bodies dancing here and now in the present – on the log, on the bridge, on the dance floor and in the staff quarters at Kellerman’s. Writing it for the stage, I was also able to add more Baby and Johnny scenes, more about the family, more songs I couldn’t afford last time, and, most exciting of all – more dancing.”
Directed by James Powell and choreographed by Michele Lynch and Craig Wilson, the production team captured the dancing that is gripping. The show stopping ballroom and Latin swing is stunning, as are the 80's hit songs “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and the show stopping “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” The story is a guilty pleasure for fans for this, at times, cheesy tale of love and dance. Some of the more iconic songs are prerecorded including “Maybe” and “Cry to Me.” The live songs are played by an onstage band under Alan Plado’s first rate direction and some, such as “The Time of My Life,” are sung by ensemble members, Jennlee Shallow and Doug Carpenter. The leads do not sing, but hold their own with some classic dance moves and timing.
The musical opened in Australia in 2004, then on to the West End, and toured throughout New Zealand, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and South Africa. But it never played Broadway; it is now on its U.S. National Tour. This is a staged re-creation of the movie, down to the story line, the verbatim dialogue, the setting and some of the favorite dance moves including the two lovers dancing in the lake. The fans adored the movie references including the car ride. The year is 1963 and Daddy’s girl “Baby” Houseman has reached womanhood, but not in the eyes of her parents, who insist she spend her last summer before college at the family’s favorite Catskill resort. There the resort’s roustabout dance instructor, Johnny, reluctantly enlists “Baby” to cover for the illness of his dance partner and the two fall madly in love.
The only historical addition different from the film is the introduction of political awareness to this story, where the company discuss the heated civil rights movement. The color-blind casting of this adequate cast makes this whole 1963 a bit far fetched since the Catskills surely a liberal setting but very Jewish. As in the movie, there are short snatches of dance rather than full production numbers. The live show even adopts flow of a film, with its short scenes and quick transitions to new locations, which is a bit clumsy.
The musical's best moment is as the two rehearse an inside number from the forest, running field and splash in a lake with perfect blend between the two leads and the projections by Jon Driscoll. Local favorite Jenny Winton from the San Francisco Ballet school is stunning as Penny and is up front as Johnny’s first dance partner. The dancing alone saves this production. The ensemble is superb, everyone brings incredible energy to Kate Champion’s, Michele Lynch’s and Craig Wilson’s sexy choreography. Yet DIRTY DANCING is a coloring book musical, the dancing is the highlight but the book can only be admired by a true fan of the film.
Adapted by Eleanor Bergstein from the film of the same name
Directed by James Powell,
Music Direction Conrad Helfrich,
Choreography by Michele Lynch
Through: March 30
Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $45-$212; 800-746-1799, www.shnsf.com
Photos by MATTHEW MURPHY