Now that Patrick Swayze is gone and Jennifer Grey’s career continues to be defined by it, Dirty Dancing has remained, for the past 28 years, frozen in time. Following the movie’s release in 1987, author Eleanor Bergstein chose to keep the story under wraps and only now has transmitted it to the stage, here a part of Pittsburgh’s Broadway Across America series.
Still frozen, in a way.
There are some things that people want to see virtually untouched by time, like Saturday Night Live reruns or a Tony Bennett concert or a ballet production of Swan Lake.
The musical theater version of Dirty Dancing has that kind of appeal, to recreate a movie that was a surprise hit in the ’80’s. It looked back to the ’60’s with a time capsule story about rebellious young lovers who get it on during the waning days of those family-friendly resorts in the Catskill Mountains, a sweet escape from city heat.
There were questions about the viability of a stage musical from the start. How would they recreate the lush green landscapes surrounding the lodge? Would they include the log balancing scene? How would they reconstruct The Lift?
Well, if that’s your bag, the producers have come up with snazzy sliding panels and projections to move quickly to each scene location. At the Benedum Center there are many greatest hits from the memorable score (I Had the Time of My Life, She’s Like the Wind, Do You Love Me?) and more to be added (Save the Last Dance For Me, Stubborn Kind of Fellow).
The musical playlist itself numbers 44 and the dialogue, which pretty much sticks to the original, just provides connecting links. If you have to put your thumb on it, this hybrid show should be called a dancical, although it doesn’t quite fall into a category that boasts Cats and Contact. Besides, this Dirty Dancing could benefit by pumping up the cast and choreography (Michele Lynch after Kate Champion) for the kids’ dance numbers — it’s all a little too lean.
The cast, from a distance, looks and, more importantly, moves remarkably like the original cast. The details are almost an exact replica of the film, which may hamper the performers from letting loose.
Gillian Abbott (Baby) touches virtually all the bases — that deep little curve to her back when she dances, the signature moves up the steps. Samuel Pergande (Johnny) even shares a Joffrey Ballet connection with Swayze, the first a company member, the latter studying at the school. But the technically proficient Pergande doesn’t have that prowling panther-like quality, the Swayze swagger that jumped off the screen.
Kudos to the leggy Penny (Jenny Winton, also a Joffrey alumnus) and a versatile ensemble that actually gets some big vocal numbers.
And to the audience that seemed to patiently take it all in, reliving a time in their own lives, just waiting for “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
And, finally, roaring at The Lift.