by MIKE CHAIKEN
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attended a stage performance where hoots and hollers greeted the first light cue.
Actually, I can count the number of times on one finger.
And, I don’t usually hear cheers when a cast member with a well-sculpted chest take off his shirt.
But it was clear even before the audience walked in to the auditorium at The Bushnell on May 24 the individuals who bought tickets had a passionate affinity for “Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage.”
Unlike some stage shows—like a “Rocky Horror Show” or “Rent”—the affinity for “Dirty Dancing” had less to do with the show itself and more to do with the source material.
The stage show—although it has music and songs, it’s hard to call it a musical—is based on the movie that starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray. It tells the story of Baby and Johnny—a young couple from two different sides of the tracks who fall in love in 1963 and who dance a lot.
If you talk to women who grew up with the movie, you can clearly tell that it holds a special place in their heart. So, seeing it on stage has a definite appeal for this built-in audience.
Of course, there’s one thing to slap a name brand on a stage show and another thing to make the show entertaining and live up to the name.
And I can say without a doubt, “Dirty Dancing” does just that. It is great fun.
The key ingredient to the success of the show is the “dancing.” Not all of it is “dirty.” But all of it is high energy and amazing to watch. Michele Lynch’s choreography is crisp and inventive. When she needs to re-create the popular dances of the time, she does it with great aplomb, providing vitality rather than dusty preservation to the steps. When she needs the dancers to convey their characters, she also does it with humor as well as creativity. She also assembled a team of dancers—including the leads Christopher Tierney and RachelBoone—who simply explode from the stage.
I’m not a dancer but I couldn’t take my eyes off of any of the choreography.
Tierney and Boone—as Johnny and Baby—had a tough job. Both had to step into roles that have been long associated with Swayze and Grey. They easily could have offered up clones of those roles. Although they built their characters on the same foundations as the movie’s leads, they offered enough nuances to call the roles their own. They also did a fabulous job in getting the audience to like them.
I noted that the show is not quite a musical. Both leads never sing. And many of the ensemble-driven songs are handled by essentially Greek Choruses—actors playing character roles who step into sing some of the songs from the original movie soundtrack.
But there is a lot of music to keep the proceedings moving and to keep the “Dirty Dancing” fans delighted.
Besides the fine leads, there were also some stand out performances.
I enjoyed Jenny Winton, as the dancer who finds herself in a terrible predicament. I particularly enjoyed her dance skills whether she performed with an ensemble or paired with Tierney.
Mark Elliott Wilson, as Baby’s father, offered the right balance of paternal and heroic attributes.
Alex Scolari also was fun as Baby’s younger sister—who was sometimes nemesis and sometimes ally.
There were some problems. Tierney and Boone might have been a tad old for their characters. But it was easy enough to overlook. (Wasn’t the original cast of “Beverly Hills 90210” nearly in their 30s before they graduated college.)
Frankly I wasn’t sure what to expect with “Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story” at The Bushnell in Hartford on May 24.
But at the end of the night, I left with a smile and humming to myself, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
I give “Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage” 3 out of 4 stars.
The show continues through Sunday with performances tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. For tickets, go to Bushnell.org