Add Event My Events Log In

Upcoming Events

    Bit to Do

    Dirty Dancing: A Classic Story on Stage
    Print this page

    I dare you to take your eyes off this brilliantly cast, theatrical representation of cult classic Dirty Dancing. Try not to get wrapped up in rich nostalgia within mere seconds of listening to the rat-a-tat beat drop of yearning oldies rock and roll. Dirty Dancing: A Classic Story on Stage is like an instant aphrodisiac.

    As the pulse of The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment” pounds in the background, vivacious dancers create stirring, sensual silhouettes behind a screen. Suddenly, movie and stage conceptions seem to morph into one. When the screen rises, it is a symbolic cue: the evocative world of Kellerman’s is no longer at a distance from us, separated by a screen.

    Where before we could only idolize this microcosm as bystanders, removed from a television away, now the audience participation is charged with exceptional energy. It is as if the voltage has been turned up like a car radio blaring out of rolled down speakers in ephemeral, spicy-sweet summertime. You get to re-read your favorite book, but actually live out the story with your favorite characters before your eyes; roaring with excitement when Johnny first saunters our way; gleefully chortling when the infamous “I carried a watermelon?!” is uttered, full endearing awkward Baby at her finest.

    In this live translation, Baby and Johnny’s impassioned love story still takes center stage, immortalized in our wistful hearts. But now, family and peer relations, as well as relevant social issues have been fleshed out, coloring in an even more complete, enduring universe; Kellerman’s has become a riveting window not only into 1963, but into 2015, an accomplishment not to be underestimated. It is a show about family dynamics and social rights as much as it is for the hopeless romantics.

    For those who might be hesitant as to who could possibly follow in the charismatic footsteps of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, rest assured. Christopher Tierney and Gillian Abbott more than do their roles justice, conjuring the same exhilarating passion that has left audiences rapt and sustained for over three decades. Tierney plays Johnny with that sexy audacity and Swayze-swagger, bravado masking the vulnerable heart that eventually falls for Baby. Abbott, a proud Julliard graduate, incredibly manipulates her nimble, fluid movements to showcase the initial unwieldy, all-too-mechanical Baby we hope to see, so that we too can evolve to sensual liberation. Jenny Winton showcases such effortlessness in her craft as troubled dancer Penny, each twist and kick fierce with moxie, willowy and lissome. She owns every moment on that stage.

    Perhaps the most irresistible change in a mostly honored script (not a single favorite moment goes unfulfilled) is the exploration of the significance of 1963 and the greater focus on the accompanying cast. Conversations of Martin Luther King, Jr. do not feel forced; they illuminate implications for clearer context and modern-day relevance. Here, Baby’s mother Marjorie Houseman (played with graceful candor by Margot White) has become a far more interesting character. You care about her back-story. There is a reason mothers always seem to know what is going on; the way their experience sometimes can closely mirror your own. It is also a fantastic sign when even with side characters like phenomenal singers, Jennlee Shallow as Kellerman staff member Elizabeth (with an extraordinary chill-inducing voice that echoes through the rafters) and Doug Carpenter as Billy Kostecki (with a “In The Still of the Night” solo that had the audience erupting into thunderous applause) hypnotize you into the outskirts of Kellerman’s beguiling interactions.

    With whimsical LED backdrops and a constantly moving setting of screens and props, set designer Stephen Brimson Lewis has mastered the art of movie-to-stage treatment in the most enticing, creative manner that will leave the audience breathless at the authentic transformation. Choreographers Kate Champion, Michelle Lynch, and David Scotchford honor the legendary lifts, twirls, and voluptuous dance moves while adding an even further sense of tour de force that these dancers master, with absolute style to spare. Brace yourself for an awe-inspiring testament to the movie you love, where the leads will not break out artificially into song and the story only feels all the more fulfilling. This is a magnificent portrayal done right.

    As mentioned in Louisville.com's preview of the show, screenwriter and book writer Eleanor Bergstein contends that the “natural form” of this show was truly designed for “the theatre.” I might tweak that contention only slightly. The core enchantment lies in an abounding sense of adoration; seasoned from that first iconic introduction of Grey and Swayze, all whirlwind, tumultuous romance. We all can recall a summer filled with headstrong pride; of naïve romanticism; self-discovery; and fascination with love and our place in this immense, heartbreaking, simultaneously wonderful world.

    This stage adaptation feels as “natural” as Bergstein championed. It allows us to revisit a love without tainting the idealization; but rather, this engaging crowd-pleaser flourishes as a classic. Bergstein has granted us opportunity to not only return to this acclaimed favorite, without sacrificing integrity; she offers us the chance to live out this love story with new depth.

    The magic of live theatre is an invitation that extends beyond the fantasy wall of a television screen; and it is worth every moment to see this story animate the stage. When Johnny declares “No one puts Baby in a corner,” you relish it all the more, cheering him on as they go on to achieve acrobatic feats. And as sentimental as it might sound, you look back and realized you have had the time of your life right there along with them.

    **

    Dirty Dancing- The Classic Story on Stage, will be playing at the Kentucky Center from now through October the 18th. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $31.25. Visit online at kentuckycenter.org or call 584-7777 to go to Kellerman’s for an evening and fall in love all over again. Groups of 10 or more should call 800-916-6101. 

    **

    All Photos: Courtesy of Matthew Murphy/Broadway Across America

    Julie Lamb's picture

    About Julie Lamb

    Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.

    More from author:    

    Share On:

    Upcoming Events

      Event Finder

      Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or RSS