This year's crop of shows at Dallas Summer Musicals had some real unique choices. The Illusionists were a completely out of this world pick, but did showcase President and Managing Director Michael A. Jenkins boldness in defining the 75th year as something new and fresh. Dirty Dancing is another of those unique picks. It isn't a Broadway played sensation, but rather an Australian super-hit that expanded to Europe and globally before bringing "Baby" home. The musical isn't really that much like other musicals, but is it something you should go see? Click through for my review of Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage.
Dirty Dancing conquered the outback first before taking Europe by storm. It even hit both sides of South Africa with runs in JoBurg and Cape Town. Finally, this iconic film turned live theatrical showcase ventured to North America and DSM hosts the show until July 5th. Fort Worth will put on the show at Bass Hall from July 7th through July 12th. So lets tackle this different show at DSM.
It’s the summer of 1963, and 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is on vacation in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents. Mesmerized by the racy dance moves and pounding rhythms she discovers in the resort’s staff quarters, Baby can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle, the resort’s sexy dance instructor. Passions ignite and Baby’s life changes forever when she is thrown into the deep end as Johnny’s leading lady, both on-stage and off.
3. The work of Stage Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell and the amazing video and projection design by Jon Driscoll are all note worthy. Ghost: The Musical really highlighted how these "film" remakes can utilize a quality video backdrop to help with the atmosphere of being immersed into the story. Overall the fluid nature of the two acts revolves around the show's ability to have that powerful image behind to feed the mood. It also is a wonderful way to convey time, weather and distance. This video showcases a similar set design that is now on the American tour but is actually from the Sydney run of the production. It highlights the great depth of the stage for the production and also the amazing amount of light utilized.
2. The wealth of great songs "played" during the production and the limited singing numbers are all great. There are wonderful call backs to the movie and the film's soundtrack. My favorite recording played is, "These Arms of Mine", belted out by Otis Redding. The song is just pure joy and a really well placed number to help close the first act. There is even an amazing comedic sequence with "Lisa's Hula" done by Emily Rice (Lisa Houseman) in the second act that easily had the most laughs of the entire show. A close second is "Besame Muncho" by a solo Herman Petras (Mr. Schumacher) But the only two real audience show-stoppers, other than the finale that was "(I've Had) The Time of My Life", are Jennlee Shallow's (Elizabeth) solo, "This Magic Moment". Her sultry voice pops up throughout the production and is an amazing talent to behold. The real hit of the show has to be Doug Carpenter's (Billy) beautiful singing during, "In The Still Of The Night". The show honestly is worth just hearing these two vocalists.
1. The dancing is constant powerful holding element of the production. Even as the first act seems to a go on a bit to long the dance numbers and sequences hold it through to the next number. The sexy nature of the dirty dancing is fully realized and the best element from the film to see up close and personal. You see the sweat, feel the grinding and gasp at the acrobatics. Easily a universal take from the show is that the dancing is solid. In fact you sorta wish there were even more elaborate numbers. Our leads Gillian Abbott (Francis "Baby" Houseman) & Samuel Pergande (Johnny Castle) have a nice chemistry and their second act main dance numbers are really fantastic to see. However, Samuel works best when dancing with Jenny Winton (Penny Johnson). Their sultry and physical numbers are by far the most incredible. But the show does allow it's leading lady the final cherry on top with her famous "leap". Overall the dancing choreography originally by Kate Champion and now by Michele Lynch and Craig Wilson is adrenaline pumping magic. The show's appeal relies heavily on the ability to make the dancing as sexy and tight as it can be. Props to dance captain Phoebe Pearl for leading this group of folks.
The only downsides to the production are it's slow first act pacing and the fact that there aren't enough musical singing numbers with the cast. There aren't any really reflective or contemplative elements and it harps from a lack of really well done musical numbers that discuss major issues. With that said the show does a great job of working in the 1963 references, but never really diving into the horrors that were happening outside of their comfy confines.
Check out the cast bios and info, here.
Dirty Dancing a different but still captivating showcase of the iconic film while still having it's own star making moments.