“Dirty Dancing” Comes To the Fisher Stage

By Daniel Skora

Some movies are so good you can watch them over and over without getting tired of seeing them. “The Fugitive” is one of them. “Mrs. Doubtfire” is another, as are “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Back to the Future”. Gloriously entertaining, they are perfectly crafted encapsulations of the human experience, both realistic and imagined. And thanks to cable TV, they are available frequently and at little or no cost. Two other movies that are on that can’t-see-enough-of list have Patrick Swayze in them. “Ghost” is about love, murder and what might happen when your time on earth is up. “Dirty Dancing” is about the goings on between the employees and the vacationers at a summer resort in the Catskill’s in the year 1963.

Christopher Tierney as Johnny and Gillian Abbott as Baby
Christopher Tierney as Johnny and Gillian Abbott as Baby

“Dirty Dancing” was originally intended as a low budget movie. But the film struck a chord with young viewers and it went on to become an enormous hit when it played the big screens in 1987. It’s maintained its popularity over the years, and Eleanor Bergstein, the film’s screenwriter, decided to pen a version for the stage. The result, “Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage”, is currently in the midst of a North American tour and it’s now appearing at the Fisher Theatre.

“Dirty Dancing” remains mostly true to the movie. The songs are all there, sixties hits like “Do You Love Me”, “In the Still of the Night” and “Hey! Baby!”, along with a few that have since been added. Prominently featured are the songs that were written especially for the film: “Hungry Eyes”, “She’s Like the Wind”, and the one that won Academy, Grammy, and Golden Globe Awards, “(I’ve had) The Time of My Life”. The sets don’t rely on three dimensional backgrounds but rather on projected images that seem to bring the outdoors right into the theatre. The dancing may be a click or two below “dirty”, but it’s still sensual and provocative.

Gillian Abbott as Baby and Christopher Tierney as Johnny bear a striking resemblance to the Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. Much like their screen counterparts, there’s a certain electricity that happens when there’re dancing together. Alex Scolari as Baby’s sister Lisa is delightful comical in the hula number she does for the resort’s talent show and the leggy Jenny Winton as Penny puts her considerable dancing abilities to fantastic use as Johnny’s partner. To instill a little social relevance to a show that’s mostly about entertainment, it sneaks in a new scene that references the civil rights movement which occupied the nation for much of the sixties.

Jenny Winton as Penny, Gillian Abbott as Baby and Christopher Tierney as Johnny
Jenny Winton as Penny, Gillian Abbott as Baby and Christopher Tierney as Johnny

In a way, it seems unfair though nigh impossible to judge a live theatrical performance in relation to the movie upon which it based. Both are totally different experiences held together by a single storyline. “Dirty Dancing” on stage is an entertaining and rewarding experience even if you haven’t seen the film. It’s lively, invigorating, and steeped in romance. That’s not to say there aren’t fans that live and breathe “Dirty Dancing” and will seek it out in whatever form they can find it. They were out en masse on opening night showing their script smarts by helping out with the movie’s most famous line: “No one puts Baby in a corner”.

“Dirty Dancing” runs through November 1st. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.ticketmaster.com, and at the Fisher Theatre Box Office.

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