‘Dirty Dancing’ works best as a dance spectacle
BOSTON — If you’re looking for great drama, an intricate plot line and superb acting in the national touring production of “Dirty Dancing” subtitled “The Classic Story on Stage,“ now at the Emerson Citi Colonial Theatre through May 10, you’re in the wrong church and the wrong pew.
If you’re looking for some spectacular dancing by some great-looking dancers, and some sparkling vocal renditions of classic rock tunes, this is your show.
The stage adaptation is by Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the screenplay for the 1987 movie hit that starred Jennifer Grey, the late Patrick Swayze and the late Jerry Orbach.
Frances ‘Baby” Houseman (Gillian Abbott) and her family are off to Kellerman’s, a summer refuge in the Catskill Mountains, part of that area of upstate New York comics called “The Borscht Belt” back in the day.
It’s Baby’s last family outing before she enters Holyoke College in the fall and she’s trying to be taken seriously. Not easy with the nickname, with her doting father, Dr. Jake Houseman (Mark Elliot Wilson), and mother Marjorie (Carollyn Kozlowski).
Max Kellerman (Gary Lynch) has held sway to generations of vacationers at his summer oasis, where college students from the finest schools are waiters, including Robbie (Scott McCreary), who has his eye on several female prizes that summer, including Baby and her older sister Lisa (Emily Rice).
The entertainment staff isn’t quite as well-bred, including Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande), who makes the ladies swoon but is rough around the edges, and long-legged fellow dance instructor Penny Johnson (Jenny Winton), still struggling to make her mark as a dancer.
Baby gets a chance to dance with Johnny when a personal situation — as in pregnancy — requires Penny to be absent for a key performance. The rehearsals are intense, as is the performance, and it isn’t long before Baby finds herself in a much more grown-up situation with Johnny that Dr. Jake and Marjorie would not approve of.
Many touring productions — such as this one –have turned to the use of an extensive number of high-definition projections, especially for exterior shots, which provide a greater sense of realism and which often take the place of tractor trailers full of sets.
Circumstances — and Dr. Jake — eventually pull Baby and Johnny apart, and “Dirty Dancing” isn’t officially “Dirty Dancing” until Pergande as Johnny returns after leaving the resort to take Baby out for a spin on the dance floor one more time, including “The Lift” move that had Grey so terrified during the movie shoot she refused to perform it until she had to during filming.
Johnny also utters the line that has spawned a million T-shirts: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” — a line, incidentally, Swayze as Johnny hated at first.
They take the dance floor one last time as singers JennLee Swallow and Doug Carpenter breathlessly and skillfully recreate the Bill Medley-Jennifer Warnes mega-hit, “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life.”
Swallow also shines in her solo on “This Magic Moment.”
The score is full of rock/pop standards of the area and a sub-plot includes reference to the turbulence of the early 1960’s time period, including Freedom Riders, and the assassinations of Kennedy and King.
If you’re coming to “Dirty Dancing,” you probably know what you want and the show, for the most part, delivers it.
The national touring production of “Dirty Dancing, The Classic Love Story on Stage.” By Eleanor Bergstein. Directed by James Powell Choreography by Michelle Lynch, original choreography by Kate Champion. Set design by Stephen Brimson Lewis. Lighting design by Tim Mitchell. Costume design by Jennifer Irwin. Sound design by Bobby Aitken. At the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre through May 10. http://www.broadwayinboston.com