I truly had the time of my life.
The Fabulous Fox brings back Dirty Dancing to the Gateway City. The last time it was here, in 2014, I remember I didn’t quite like the production as a whole. The actor who played Johnny came off too arrogant and the show itself had several technical gaffes which took away from the nostalgia of the show. But what I have learned from this production of the show—which is based on the 1987 blockbuster movie—is that all Johnnys are not created equal.
Set in 1963, the plot revolves around Baby (Rachel Boone) and her family who take a summer vacation to a fancy resort called Kellerman’s. There are all sorts of events at the resort, such as rousing games of Simon Says, but the main attraction of the resort is the nightly dancing. Baby falls for a dance instructor named Johnny (Christopher Tierney). Baby happens upon Johnny and the rest of the resort’s crew blowing off some steam by dancing seductively to some of the era’s biggest music.
As she observes how the other half lives—from the safe confines of her privilege bubble—the plot thickens as Baby learns that Johnny’s dance partner, Penny (Jennifer Mealani Jones), has gotten her tin roof rusted. Baby gets $250 from her father Dr. Jake Houseman (Jon Edward Powell), so Penny can get her illegitimate pregnancy under control. But there is a snag in the plan as Johnny is left without a partner for his big dance number at another resort. Baby comes to the rescue once again as she volunteers to serve as his dance partner.
While Johnny teaches Baby how to move her hips, the two embark on the beginning of a beautiful relationship. After some Three’s Company type of misunderstanding, Baby’s father thinks that Johnny got Penny preggers—which he didn’t, it was the slimy waiter Robbie (Matthew Amira), who has his sights set on Baby’s sister Marjorie (Rachel Bell Carpenter)—and forbids his daughter to see the mistaken scoundrel.
Defying her father, Baby throws caution to the wind and continues to see Johnny. Tensions rise, as Johnny is accused of a stealing a wallet. Baby ultimately comes to his rescue by revealing that she spent the night with him while the crime was committed. Enraged, her father threatens to end the trip early but agrees to stay one final night. As Baby pouts in the corner during the resort’s annual variety show, Johnny comes to her rescue and the two reunite and prove to her father that true love conquers all.
Boone in the role of Baby was nothing short of brilliant. She took the iconic role and ran with it the whole production. Her stage presence was charismatic and her dancing ability was sensational. She portrayed Baby with a sense of strength and grace, a hard combination to pull off. Her chemistry with her co-star Tierney was palpable. Speaking of Tierney, his performance was equally impressive. He was arrogant in the beginning, but as the show progressed, his tenderness for Baby was endearing. These two talented actors complimented each other impeccably.
The rest of the cast was outstanding as they filled the large stage with impressive choreography and impressive vocals. The other star of the show is the music of the era. Songs like “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance for Me” transported me back to a simpler time, but it was the performances of “Do You Love Me” and “ You Don’t Own Me” that really served as the musical highlights of the show. Needless to say, the ultimate highlight of the show is the rousing performance of the iconic song, “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”
The technical aspects of this production were all top-notch. Michelle Lynch’s choreography was mesmerizing, Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set design was flawless, and Tim Mitchell’s lighting design was completely thought out. Despite the silly sequence where Johnny teaches Baby how to do the “lift” which utilized a massive screen with overpowering images, the entire show was magnificent.
Something I use to gauge the quality of a show is how well the crowd receives the production. St. Louis theater-goers are a shrewd bunch. We expect every show to be Broadway quality and let me tell you, this crowd went all in for this production. When Johnny and Baby consummated their relationship, the crowd let out an audible cheer, and when Baby and Johnny connected for the big lift in the final number, the applause sent goosebumps up my arms. This production of Dirty Dancing not only impressed me, it pleased St. Louis. I can honestly say as I walked out of this memorable production I truly had the time of my life. | Jim Ryan
Photo: Matthew Murphy