Dirty Dancing | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

Dirty-Dancing 75To be frank, this show was almost laughably bad.

Dirty-Dancing 500

The Fabulous Fox Theatre’s decision to open their 2014-2015 season with Dirty Dancing, the classic film on stage, was a good idea in theory. It’s a story that audiences have swooned over since the film’s 1987 release. One does not have to be familiar with the film to associate the song “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” and the lines like “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” to characters Francis “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and dance instructor and resident hunk Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Not surprisingly opening night of this show drew a theatre full of Fox patrons and long-time Dirty Dancing fans.

Unfortunately, what should have been a night of blissful nostalgia was instead one that elicited frustrated, hushed mutterings from audience members, and an overall air of disappointment. To be frank, this show was almost laughably bad.

To give a bit of plot summary for those who are not familiar with this show, Baby’s (Jillian Mueller) family is on vacation at a resort called Kellerman’s. Her father, Dr. Jake Houseman (Mark Elliot Wilson), is a wealthy doctor and he and Baby’s mother, Marjorie (Caralyn Kozlowski), have high expectations for young Baby, who is preparing to enter college and has a dream of joining the Peace Corps. Baby is intrigued by the dancers at the resort, including Johnny (Samuel Pergande) and his partner Penny (Jenny Winton). One evening Baby accompanies Johnny’s cousin Billy (Doug Carpenter) back to the staff quarters and is mesmerized by the “dirty dancing” taking place there—we’re talking skimpy clothes, red lights, extremely sultry and sexy grinding, and most importantly incredible talent. It’s evident from the show’s start that the dancing staff at Kellerman’s are of a significantly lower class than the resort’s guests, and Johnny and Penny initially refuse to entertain Baby’s curiosity and innocence, stereotyping her based on her wealth.

Penny gets into some trouble, leaving Johnny without a dance partner for an upcoming show at another resort. Taught to help when a situation calls for it, Baby convinces her father to give her money, without explanation, which she gives to Penny. Baby, who has no dance experience, steps in for Penny, and so the dance training begins—quite begrudgingly on Johnny’s part. Although it’s not easy, Baby convinces her sister Lisa (Emily Rice) to cover for her during these long, intensive rehearsals. We begin to see Baby adopting elements of the dirty dancers, such as wearing makeup and showing her stomach, becoming very confident in her own skin. Despite his constant frustration with her, Johnny notices this as well and realizes that she’s not like the wealthy people he is used to. As a romantic relationship emerges, the conflict of this play is fully realized as Baby jeopardizes the trust and admiration of her parents who do not approve of rough around the edges individuals like Johnny.    

Personally, I think that theatre translates much more smoothly to film than vice versa. One of the most memorable scenes in the film is the montage of Johnny training Baby for their performance at the Sheldrake. The dance is very sexy, very intimate, and it is here that we begin — or should I say, should have began — to see these two fall hard and fast for one another during this live performance. The time lapse of this training montage is extremely well done, as we watch Baby become a better dancer with each passing day (which I imagine must be difficult to act out), but when Baby and Johnny leave the dance studio to rehearse in a field and in the water, the production quality drops drastically. The technical approach in translating these moments is the worst I’ve ever seen at The Fox. For example, during the water scene a blue “water” screen overtakes the stage, and behind it our main characters train. In effect, the two look like they are completely submerged underwater, and I could hardly make them out behind the screen. Occasionally I could hear Baby fall in the water as she struggles to master a jump, which was laughable because as I said it looked like they were underwater as it was.

It wasn’t even the translation that made this show such a flop, though. Rather, the problem was that several cast members could not act, including Pergande as main character Johnny. He was an excellent dancer, but practically shouted his lines, which also were void of any emotion, and he had absolutely no chemistry with Mueller who played Baby. Even Mueller seemed incapable of delivering even semi-serious dialogue convincingly. This lack of connection between who should have been the stars of the show made their eventual intimate relationship extremely awkward verging on painful to watch. I felt uncomfortable when the two were alone in Johnny’s room, as if all I was witnessing was a very uncaring, smug man take advantage of the naivety of a young girl whose street smarts were far inferior to her academic intelligence. But this is not the intention of Dirty Dancing writer Eleanor Bergstein; it’s merely the blame of horrid acting. I wanted a night of soaring romance not a pitiful, unglamorous attempt at affection. (But if I’m really being honest here, I wanted Patrick Swayze). Pergande’s performance was an insult to the character.

The bad of this performance obviously outweighed the good, however, there are some positive points worth mentioning. Aside from the dance rehearsal scenes in the “water” and the “grass,” the set was actually really nice—simple and clean, with excellent mood lighting. Also, papa Jake Houseman and daughter Lisa were well portrayed, Wilson and Rice some of the best actors in the show. Lastly, there are a few moments in this show that the cast really needed to make count, and one of those was the final scene during which the Oscar-winning song “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” is danced to. Fans can exhale in relief because this scene was extremely satisfying; Elizabeth (Jennlee Shallow) and Billy perform a beautiful rendition that stays true to the classic.

It’s just too bad that despite the hype surrounding the film, audience members are not going to have the time of their lives during this show. You’d be far more entertained and financially well off if you just stay at home and watch the movie. | Megan Washausen   

Dirty Dancing runs through Nov. 2. For ticket info, visit http://www.fabulousfox.com.

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