I was never a huge fan of the movie Dirty Dancing, mainly because its mix of period pop and contemporary songs always bugged the hell out of me, and its story was a very thin romantic cliché. But that doesn't mean I didn't understand its appeal. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze were incredibly charismatic, and had a definite chemistry. The two of them helped the movie rise above its shortcomings. Which is why a live musical version makes about as much sense as a remake.
And yet, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage has been touring around the world since 2004, (though tellingly, it hasn't had a Broadway run as of yet), and is now playing San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater though March 20th.
Rachel Boone takes on the role of Baby, and has some passing resemblance to Jennifer Grey. She's pleasantly dorky, but never convincingly makes the transition to fully blossomed dirty dancer. Christopher Tierney plays Johnny Castle, and does his best to sound like Patrick Swayze; he certainly looks just as good in a black tank top. But, unsurprisingly, he doesn't have Swayze's charm, and never really sizzles with Boone's Baby.
His dance numbers with Penny (played by San Francisco native and SF Ballet School alum Jenny Winton) are the show's best bits of dancing in a musical that has, shockingly, not a whole lot of dancing! There were certainly no numbers that brought the house down, and only two large group dance numbers, neither particularly memorable.
The whole production feels cheap and cobbled together, almost like something a high school would put on. The sets are primarily plain white boards that looks like window shutters, and video projection is used to indicate changes of location, with some of the video coming directly from the movie itself (showing images of the camp grounds, for instance). Sometimes these video "sets" are used to purposeful comedic effect, (the famous practice in the lake has the two leads falling "into" the water, and then flipping their hair back, as if they were soaking wet), but sometimes the laughs don't seem intentional, (a "driving" scene where Johnny mimes driving while standing up is just flat out silly).
The show is filled with music, but not a lot of musical numbers. While there is a live band that often appears on stage, the show utilizes both live and pre-recorded originals, although roughly half of the songs in the show aren't played to completion. The two leads don't do any singing either. Instead vocals are left to two ensemble players, Adrienne Walker and Doug Carpenter, including the singing of the show's closing number "Time of My Life."
The film's dramatic moments are kept in, (but don't worry, there isn't a botched-abortion-musical number), and some more are added, like a clunky group-listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But none of the story's drama is ever allowed to sink in, because dialogue is rushed through, with some scenes seeming to last mere seconds, as if the actors were afraid they'd get hit by furniture changes should they linger on stage too long.
The show also manages to mangle the one moment that should have the most kick: the delivering of the line "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." A moment that should feel like time standing still instead comes across as an off-handed remark that doesn't make a lot of sense within the context of the scene, since no one has put Baby in any kind of proverbial or physical corner.
And for that, the entire show should just go sit in an actual corner, and think about what it's done.