Dirty Dancing

Written on November 5th, 2015

Nobody puts Baby in the Corner!

Note:  On stage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Nov. 24-29.  Visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.

The movie Dirty Dancing with the very hot and incomparable Patrick Swayze and sweet young Jennifer Grey has a huge following.  It was the surprise hit of the 1980s and has gone on to become a favourite even with those who weren’t born when it came out.   So the stage show has tried to copy the movie exactly to keep those devoted fans happy.

The production now on stage at Budweiser Gardens in London brought in an opening night audience of keen Dirty Dancing enthusiasts.  Many young 20-somethings (female and male!) waited for the show to begin with excited anticipation.

The stage production relies on video footage, which may even be actual clips from the movie.  Across the back of the stage we see grand views of Kellermans resort, the lush golf course, and beautiful sunsets.  We see Baby’s family’s cabin and the staff accommodations, just like the movie.  This all works well to give us the feel of being at the 1963 resort.

But then the creators rely a bit too much on video clips.  The famous scene of Baby and Johnny dancing on the log across the creek happens behind a scrim, so we miss the blossoming chemistry between them.  Dirty Dancing 2

After that, the video becomes too cheesy; the audience laughs at the movie background in the parts that were meant to be romantic and serious.  Baby and Johnny practise their dance in a field and then in a lake, behind a scrim on which the audience sees video of a waving meadow and rippling water.  But when the dancing couple fall into meadow, grasses stay standing and when they go into the lake, the water doesn’t splash.  The audience titters at the ridiculousness of it.  Later it grows worse when they climb into an imaginary car – we hear the sound effects of the doors slamming, and Johnny grabs the pretend steering wheel.  Behind them flashes scenery as if they were in a car going down the road.  Seeing two people standing there, pretending to be in a car the way little children do, causes laughter again.

So unfortunately, the corny video, along with the lengthy scenes of dance rehearsal, prevents the audience from seeing Baby and Johnny fall in love.

In Act two, however, there is less reliance on video and the action picks up.  Baby’s defence of Johnny is heartfelt and the audience cheers when he says “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”

Christopher Tierney as Johnny dances with all the finesse of Swayze.  Gillian Abbott as Baby combines innocence with feistiness and has the dance skills necessary for the finale.  Jenny Winton is excellent as Penny, the pregnant dance instructor.  Winton has the legs and the expertise for the big dance numbers.

The show also features two outstanding singers:  Jennlee Shallow is excellent with the big numbers such as “Don’t tell me What to do”, and Doug Carpenter gives a great rendition of “In the Still of the Night”.  Together they are amazing with the iconic finale “I’ve had the Time of my Life”.

A Dirty Dancing fan will love seeing their favourite show brought to life. The dancing, singing, and even the recorded music take us back to Kellermans in the 60s or maybe to the movie theatre where we first saw Dirty Dancing in the 80s. Leaving the Bud Gardens, a young woman squeals “I love it!  I love him!”

Dirty Dancing continues until November 8 at the Budweiser Gardens in London.  Call the box office at 1-866-455-2849 or visit  http://www.budweisergardens.com/events

Photo:  Christopher Tierney as Johnny Castle and Gillian Abbott as Frances “Baby” Houseman in Dirty Dancing.

Dirty Dancing
By Eleanor Bergstein
Directed by James Powell
Choreographed by Michele Lynch, with original choreography by Kate Champion
Musical Direction by Conrad Helfrich
Performed by Christopher Tierney, Gillian Abbott et al.
Produced by Lionsgate and Magic Hour Productions
RBC Theatre, Budweiser Gardens, London
November 3-8, 2015
On stage at Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto
November 24 to 29, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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