‘Dirty Dancing’ Turned Into A Musical, But Still Needs Work

Dirty Dancing was the little movie that could. The play Dirty Dancing needs some work.

The Boston Herald is reporting that the Dirty Dancing play, adapted from the original screenplay by original Dirty Dancing writer Eleanor Bergstein, has been received well in Australia, Europe, and parts of the United States. It is currently in Boston at the Colonial Theater until May 10. For 20 years, Bergstein put off reformatting the screenplay into a play style.

“They didn’t do it because it’s the best movie but because they wanted to experience something in the film over and over again,” she said about Dirty Dancing, the play. “It was then I decided I needed to figure out how to make it work on stage.”

Whatever Bergstein did, it worked. Since Dirty Dancing debuted at the Theatre Royal in Sydney in 2004, the play has gone worldwide and earned over $100 million since. Dirty Dancing generated the biggest advanced sales in West End history. Bergstein had some problems culturally moving with the times.

“I knew this couldn’t be a typical musical, it couldn’t be just Baby and Johnny singing to each other,” Bergstein said. “This needed to honor the attachment people have with the film and make them realize this production was what they wanted and didn’t even know.”

According to the Boston Globe, however, the Boston rendition is missing a few steps. The cast, under the direction of James Powell, seem to perform “by-the-numbers” with little chemistry between Johnny Castle, played by Samuel Pergande, and Frances “Baby” Houseman, played by Gillian Abbott. What chemistry exists is produced by Abbott, though not by much. The passion and feelings felt between Johnny and Baby that resonate in the film so vividly are severely lacking in this Dirty Dancing play.

Pergande shows the dancing skills that one would possess when dancing with the Joffrey Ballet and the American Ballet Theater, but his portrayal is one-dimensional and almost unrecognizable, muttering his lines and not delivering them, lacking the urgency that the film and Johnny are covered in. Abbott fares better, delivering her lines well, but still only one-sided. Much of the blame for that, according to the Globe staff, was the lead-heavy Dirty Dancing screenplay.

Bergstein does get kudos for keeping the 1963-ish ideals and morals true to Dirty Dancing, from listening to Kennedy on the radio, hearing the nightmare of Vietnam, and the battle of the classes at the resort. Though some of the cast members find a way to keep bringing Baby back into the past, Baby finds a way to rebel and get out. After all, nobody puts Baby in a corner.

[Image courtesy of Boston Herald]