The audience in Denver was ecstatic on opening night of Dirty Dancing, the stage production based on the classic 1987 movie with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
They whooped and hollered at the opening beats of “This Magic Moment,” and they cheered when Baby made her famous cathartic leap into Johnny’s arms in the iconic final scene. They were mesmerized throughout the show, and you could hear a pin drop during the sexy dance scenes of the two stars.
Everyone knew they would see electrifying dancing—dirty and otherwise—and hear the hit soundtrack that sold more than 44 million copies, but no one expected the innovative set by Stephen Brimson Lewis (set designer), Jon Driscoll (video/projection) and Tim Mitchell (lighting). Combining video projections with the physical set, they cleverly bring outdoor scenes to the stage; for example, placing Baby and Johnny in the middle of a dense green forest where they practice balancing on a log, and later standing up to their waists in a shimmering lake where they rehearse the leap and “fall in,” coming up wet. The technology works beautifully.
Eleanor Bergstein’s original movie screenplay is nearly verbatim, and all the memorable tunes are reprised—hits like the theme song “Time of My Life,” and “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” “She’s Like the Wind,” and a haunting rendition of “In the Still of the Night” sung convincingly by Doug Carpenter. Even a few songs Bergstein couldn’t get for the movie are sung in this production: “Save the Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters and Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.”
Dreamy Christopher Tierney channels Patrick Swayze perfectly, down to the smoldering look, shock of hair and soft-spoken nature of the dance instructor Johnny Castle. And that boy can dance!
Gillian Abbot is appropriately adorable as Baby, the 17-year-old idealist vacationing with her family at a resort in the Catskills where the owner tells his young male employees “to show the daughters a good time.” The date is summer of 1963. The “good time” gets one of the dancers, Penny (Jenny Winton), in “trouble,” and Baby steps up to help. That predicament provides the serious drama for the show that otherwise is a sweet coming-of-age story between an innocent girl and a worldly boy who come from different backgrounds and the lessons they teach each other about self-worth. After filling in as Johnny’s dance partner, Baby tells him, “I’m scared of not feeling my whole life like the way I feel when I’m with you.”
Awwww. . .
If you like dancing and music of the 60s era, Dirty Dancing is a slam-dunk winner, even if you haven’t seen the movie. Though it has been around since 2004, surprisingly it has not made it to Broadway.
Other creatives are James Powell, director; Michele Lynch, choreographer; Craig Wilson, ballroom and Latin choreographer; Kate Champion, original choreography; Conrad Helfrich, music supervisor; Jennifer Irwin, costume designer; Bobby Aitken, sound; Bernie Ardia, hair.
The cast includes: Christopher Tierney, Gillian Abbott, Doug Carpenter, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Ryan Jesse, Gary Lynch, Scott McCreary, Herman Petras, Alex Scolari, Margot White, Mark Elliot Wilson, Jenny Winton, John Antony, Rachel Marie Bell, Danielle Diniz, Jon Drake, Josh Drake, Rashaan James II, Joshua Keith, Kevin Mylrea, Katelyn Prominski, Amy Quanbeck, Alana Randall, Sean Rozanski, Adrienne Walker, Devan Watring.
Dirty Dancing plays through January 31 at the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. For tickets, call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.
Note to parents: Due to mature subject matter, this play is not recommended for children or young teens.