baby ugg booties ‘Dirty Dancing’ at Playhouse Square is loud
CLEVELAND, Ohio In “Dirty Dancing the Classic Story On Stage,” you will not see Frances “Baby” Houseman crawling across the floor on all fours and voicing the cheeky call and response between boy and girl in “Love Is Strange” by Mickey Sylvia.
He: “How do you call your lover boy?”
Instead, Gillian Abbott, outfitted in a curly top wig as the adorable, rabble rousing, Peace Corps bound Baby, lip syncs those lyrics to her lover boy Johnny Castle, just as Jennifer Grey did to Patrick Swayze in the megahit movie. Directed by James Powell, with choreography by Michele Lynch and original choreography by Kate Champion.
When: Through Sunday, March 22.
Where: Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, Cleveland.
Tickets: $30 $100.
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes, including intermission.
That didn’t stop attendees from dancing in the aisles at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Thursday night. Thoughtfully, a middle aged woman in bedazzled Uggs performed her impromptu jig during intermission.
That jig and the fans who shelled out $20 to take a picture with Johnny whilst clutching a watermelon after the show (if you don’t know, don’t ask) makes one thing abundantly clear: “Dirty Dancing” onstage is as critic proof as the flick was when it opened in theaters nearly 30 years ago. (For the record, this reviewer has been known to draw the shades, ignore phone calls and abandon dinner plans upon encountering a “Dirty Dancing” cable marathon.)
Scenes from that 1987 film are scrupulously re created, with bonus material added by creator Eleanor Bergstein to hammer home the civil rights struggles of the summer of 1963. Some of those additions (a Freedom Rider subplot, for instance) blend fairly seamlessly with the existing political subtext, while others stick out like a dancer with a sprained ankle in a chorus line (a campfire sing along to “We Shall Overcome”).
But back to the Classic Story: Months before the Kennedy assassination, Baby and her family her doctor daddy, golf playing mama and tone deaf sister head off to Kellerman’s mountain resort for a little R those somehow unacquainted with the pop culture phenomenon, that’s the Catskills hideaway where Baby collides with bad boy dance instructor Johnny C. (assistant dance captain John Drake, filling in for taller headliner Samuel Pergande, sidelined by a hand injury), he of the taunting hips and taut abs.
Naturally, she falls head over Keds in love, despite their pronounced class differences. During their hot n sweaty courtship, he teaches her to cut a rug,
and she schools him on the art of standing up for himself. Oh, and they salsa between the sheets.
At times, the story takes on a playful new life onstage, winkingly exploiting its irresistibly cheesy charm. To wit:
When Johnny’s lissome dance partner Penny Johnson (the sensational, ballet trained Jenny Winton, believably playing a high kicking former Rockette) has to take a night off to have a back alley abortion, Baby volunteers to do the mambo with Johnny at a local hotel.
After spending days cooped up trying to learn the moves, he takes her outdoors, here represented by a scrim awash with ever changing projections of beloved locales that DD devotees can tick off their checklists: Baby and Johnny balance barefoot on a log in a mossy forest. Baby and Johnny cavort in a shimmering lake, where they practice lifts and stay remarkably dry.
Their pronounced lack of dampness drew laughs, but signature lines “I carried a watermelon” and “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” also emblazoned on bibs and T shirts in the lobby elicited cheers.
Now, about that watermelon: Baby helps Johnny’s cousin Billy (a delectable Scott McCreary, also filling in at Thursday’s show) carry the cumbersome fruit to an after hours staff party, where she speaks to Johnny for the first time.
Other props Johnny’s record player and his rumpled bed whoosh on and off the stage. Digitized backdrops approximate everything from a golf course to a staff bungalow filled with writhing bodies. Johnny and Baby pantomime tooling around in his muscle car against a moving, video game backdrop accompanied by the sound of an engine revving and scattering gravel.
The volume on the prerecorded music featuring hits from the famous soundtrack bulked up by additional tunes is cranked as high as at a concert at The Q.
All those technical how are they gonna do that re creations are fun but rarely thrilling, like a roller coaster you loved as a kid that seems somehow diminished when you climb aboard as an adult.
Dancers get down and dirty, just as they do in the movie, simulating, with acrobatic fair, positions approved by the Kama Sutra. Characters are broad, and so is most of the acting, but those are acceptable evils in a carnival ride of a production.
Although Drake is a high energy dancer and Abbott a comfortable enough doppelganger, the absence of heat between the leads is a real shame, and made me miss the fizzy interactions of Grey and the late Swayze. But really, who cares? Not the Ugg wearing dancing queen or the watermelon huggers, surely.
The show is loud and colorful, a fast moving, sensory experience designed so those in the audience feel as though they’ve been handed keys to their own vacation cabins at Kellerman’s.
That’s not to say “Dirty Dancing” in the flesh is without fresh surprises. A handful of songs are performed live, by an electrifying “Dirty Dancing Orchestra” and feature Jennlee Shallow (“This Magic Moment”), a sizzling vocalist from Trinidad and Tobago with legs that appear to extend all the way to her gorgeous throat,
and an angel voiced McCreary (“In the Still of the Night”).