DirtyDancing

 

The Fabulous Fox kicks off its 2014 season with an uneven stage performance of the legendary movie, Dirty Dancing.

 

Synopsis in a nutshell: While on summer vacation, good girl Frances “Baby” Houseman crosses paths with local bad boy dance instructor, Johnny Castle. The two serve as star crossed lovers during the turbulent early 60’s. The times they are a'changing and Baby and Johnny fight all the odds (i.e. societal, political) to make their love endure.

 

The timelessness of the original Dirty Dancing is undeniable. The cast was astonishing and the soundtrack went 11X platinum in the US. It made Jennifer Grey a huge star and eventually led to Patrick Swayze being crowned one of the sexiest men alive. But the unexpected star was the soundtrack. It was chock full of feel good songs from the era and even a (albeit arguable) hit from Patrick Swayze with ”She’s Like the Wind.” The effect this movie had on pop culture is immeasurable.

 

The stage production of this movie focuses more on the music (and dancing) rather than the story. The story is there, but more with broad strokes than fine details. All of the iconic scenes are included such as: when Baby stumbles on the staff quarters and witnesses the sultry dance party; the revelation of Penny’s unexpected pregnancy, the dance lessons between Johnny and Baby; and of course, the lift at the end. What this production is lacking is the time for the story to gel and the characters to fully develop onstage.

 

Jillian Mueller did her part in bringing Baby to life on the stage. This talented actress gave her role a plucky attitude and charming delivery. She was one of the few performers who executed both acting and dancing aspects with grace and commitment. Mueller has stage appeal and her performance kept me intrigued the entire production.

 

Samuel Pergande is an amazing dancer –there is no denying that. But his acting performance left me cold. The role of Johnny should have an element of arrogance, but Pergande’s delivery was too gruff. The tone in his voice never softened and the true love connection with Baby never materialized. But as far as dancing goes, this man’s body movements are breathtaking.

 

Another actress that had a breakthrough performance was Jenny Winton as Penny Johnson. This leggy blonde commanded the audience’s attention every time she hit the stage. She was another performer who excelled in both dance and acting aspects. Her movements were a joy to watch and she delivered one of the more believable performances.

 

While the music is understandably expected to take center stage, I was not prepared for Miss Jennlee Shallow who served as a soloist in several songs. Her performances of “This Magic Moment,” “You Don’t Own Me”, and the iconic “”(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” were mesmerizing.

 

The use of huge computer screens to create the scene changes was done brilliantly. Backdrops changed in an instant to help move the story along swiftly. I have seen this technique used before, but never at this level nor this successfully.

 

The costumes seemed to be lacking in authenticity. This show is set in the 60’s, but the costumes felt almost too modern. Every once in awhile the styles of the time were referenced, but then another set of clothes would come out that felt out of place.

 

The show suffered from some opening night audio difficulties. The constant music was too loud which caused the speaking parts to be muffled or in some cases drowned out entirely. While the live band gave the production amazing energy, the level of their sound took away from the dialogue.

 

This production of Dirty Dancing is a mixed bag. Some of the performances are top-notch and all of the choreography is highly enjoyable, but the absence of a likeable Johnny coupled with some flawed technical aspects make this production appealing only to die hard Dirty Dancing fans. I would say go for the nostalgia aspect and be sure to stay for the “lift”at the end.

 

Dirty Dancing plays at The Fabulous Fox through November 2nd. Please visit fabulousfox.com for ticket prices and showtimes.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @ReviewerJim

 

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