When you have a musical adaptation of a movie, the typical approach is to strip-mine the story for a few memorable plot points and then pack the thing with original (mostly lousy) songs. This results in more misses than hits.
The musical version of “Dirty Dancing” goes to the complete opposite extreme by putting practically every song, every line, and every dance move from the movie painstakingly up on the stage. The result is like going to a wax museum or seeing a really good tribute band. It may be impressive, but no matter how hard it tries, it still feels like a pale imitation of the original.
So how you feel about the stage version of “Dirty Dancing” (now playing at the Fox Theatre through Nov. 2) really comes down to how you feel about the movie version of “Dirty Dancing.”
The 1987 coming-of-age romance is about as iconic as a movie of this ilk can get as it turned Patrick Swayze into an international sex symbol and ensured Jennifer Grey would be remembered as more than just Ferris Bueller’s little sister.
For those of you who have forgotten or chosen not to remember, “Dirty Dancing” is set in a vacation retreat in 1963 where our heroine “Baby” Houseman (Jillian Mueller) is vacationing with her saintly father Jake (Mark Elliot Wilson), her mostly-mute mother Marjorie (Caralyn Kozlowski) and her flaky sister Lisa (Emily Rice).
Full of righteousness and moral fiber, Baby interjects herself into the personal dramas of the entertainment staff, especially dancers Penny Johnson (Jenny Winton) and Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande).
When circumstance leaves Johnny without a dance partner for an important performance, Baby volunteers to take Penny’s place, which leads to the instruction of some risqué dance moves and a blossoming romance.
One of the biggest keys to the success of “Dirty Dancing” is the music, from the time-capsule, early-60s hits like “In The Still Of The Night (I’ll Remember)” and “Do You Love Me?” to the original songs that went on to become 80s classics like “Hungry Eyes,” “She’s Like The Wind” and, of course, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
Fortunately, none of these songs are forced into the mouths of the main characters but are instead performed with a live orchestra as more of the soundtrack they were intended to be.
The biggest joy of this show is seeing all of the incredible dancing performed right in front of you, but ultimately this is a performance that feels confined by the very thing it is celebrating.
Because of its slavish dedication to the movie, there are zero surprises in the show and the actors feel pinned down almost to the point of doing imitations as opposed to finding their own takes on the characters.
Pergande delivers Swayze’s wooden, tough-guy dialogue while nailing all of his impressive dance moves and Mueller tries to find some freshness in the character of Baby, but it’s hard to do while unnecessarily wearing a wig that mirrors Grey’s trademark curls.
If you really love “Dirty Dancing” then there is an undeniable thrill to seeing it performed live on stage. But since the stage production doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it might just be more satisfying to curl up on the couch and watch the movie. Again. After all, nobody puts the original in a corner.
“Dirty Dancing” is now playing at the Fox Theatre through Nov. 2. For tickets call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.