Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 25, 2016

Dirty Dancing-The Classic Story on Stage

The Bushnell, Hartford, 
through May 29, 2016
by R.E. Smith

A more faithful transfer of a movie to the stage could not be found than this presentation of “Dirty Dancing” and judging from the reaction and energy of the audience, they would have it no other way.

Original screenwriter Eleanor Begstein created this “stage event” to fill the need of what she saw as the “viewing audience’s desire to be more physically involved in the story.” So she crafted a show that is not quite a musical or concert, not quite a dance review, but a unique recreation of the 1987 film that tells the tale of a young girl’s coming of age at a 1960s Catskill resort.

Entire scenes, costumes, dialogue, and staging are transferred, whole cloth, to the stage, with varying degrees of success. Rachel Boone as “Baby” is a true Doppelganger for the film’s Jennifer Grey. While Christopher Tierney is not quite as faithful a reproduction of Patrick Swayze’s “Johnny”, the catcalling female members of the audience had no problem with his presence. Both performers were fine dancers and did admirably in roles that called for them to literally imitate at times the celluloid performances.

The show works best when the youthful cast is kicking up their heels, recreating dance numbers and set pieces. A few of the stage tricks employed to accomplish this were done with some self-awareness, as if to say “we know we can never do this justice on stage, but you’ll forgive us because you know that as well as we do.” Other settings, such as Baby practicing as she crosses a bridge were quite effective.

There are over 40 (!) songs, fragments, or musical interludes throughout the show, most using the original 1960’s recordings. Some, including the well known “Time of My Life” and “In The Still of the Night” were live-sung by Doug Carpenter or Adrienne Walker (or both), but the songs were used more like a movie soundtrack, underscoring the action rather than overtly expressing any inner dialogue. Carpenter and Walker’s talent was undeniable and appreciated in those times they brought the soundtrack to full life.

One need not have watched the original film dozens of times using an old VHS copy in the basement or dorm room to enjoy the show, but it will thrill you more when Baby makes the inevitable final leap into Johnny’s arms.