Dallas — With stage adaptations all the rage these days, it’s no surprise that the 1987 iconic hit Dirty Dancing has its moment. From its 2004 Sydney premiere, the show has broken records around the world, and now it sways into the Music Hall at Fair Park as Dallas Summer Musicals begins to wind down its season. Cowtown folks get their shot when it moves to Bass Hall on July 7 for a weeklong run.
The movie was written by Eleanor Bergstein based on her experiences growing up, and she returns to furnish the script for the live show. Directed by James Powell with Conrad Helfrich as music supervisor, the production brings back familiar songs and lines that everyone knows by heart. Choreography by Michele Lynch (Kate Champion choreographed the original show) captures the essence of each character and allows the various couples to shine through exciting partnering sequences.
The story focuses on Francis “Baby” Houseman (Gillian Abbott) during the summer of 1963 as she vacations with her family in the Catskill Mountains. Bewildered and intrigued by the intimate dance moves of the resort staff, which stand in stark contrast to the propriety of the posh clientele, she finds herself transformed through a relationship with the lead dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande).
The show is very close to the film, with small, subtle additions blending seamlessly with the narrative, since they expand on topics already mentioned in the plot. One thing patrons will likely notice is that it doesn’t have many of the attributes of a musical, nor is it billed as one. Few songs are actually sung, as many of them are played as original tracks. While the dancing is spectacular, the show-stopping ensemble dance numbers characteristic of musicals are practically non-existent.
The biggest difference between the film and this production is line delivery, and this is where stage adaptations typically run into trouble, especially if they share much of the same script as their silver screen counterparts. Due to the nature of the medium, lines on stage are performed quite differently than they would in the movie. Overall, this production’s dialogue feels rushed, almost as if the actors are speaking over each other, and it takes a while to get used to the cadence.
One positive difference, though, is that the stage does a wonderful job of exaggerating awkwardness, specifically in the characters of Neil Kellerman (Ryan Jesse) and Lisa Houseman (Emily Rice). The tall, lanky Jesse brings a new level of nerdiness to Neil, with bumbling ballroom dancing and a cringe-worthy attempt at humor. Rice gives the appearance of a prim and polished lady, but her talent show hula offering boasts even more floundering dance steps and hilariously flat vocals.
Luckily, the singing is not lacking with the main singers, Doug Carpenter (playing Billy Kostecki) and Jennlee Shallow. Carpenter exhibits an interesting sound and brings the audience to quick applause and cheers with his rendition of “In the Still of the Night.” Shallow demonstrates a thrilling soulfulness, especially in “We Shall Overcome,” an ode to the hope of the Civil Rights Movement—Bergstein's chosen year for the action is important, as the summer of 1963 precedes JFK's assassination, the Beatles' first appearance stateside and is at the beginning of our men being shipped off to Vietnam.
Dancing is about what one should expect: stunning. Many cast members, including the main ones, come from professional dance backgrounds. Jenny Winton (playing Penny Johnson) and Pergande both have the Joffrey Ballet on their resumes, which is somewhat poetic since Patrick Swayze also danced with the company. Winton’s movement style is reminiscent of Vera Ellen in some sequences, and she and Pergande perform quite a few dazzling lifts.