The cheers for “Dirty Dancing” began with the first drumbeats of the opening song at Century II on Tuesday night, and hit their peak when the lead performers re-created the final scene’s dance “lift” made famous in the 1987 flick.
The curtain call hadn’t even begun and the audience was on its feet.
You might say they had the time of their – well, you know the rest.
The touring production, which continues through Thursday night, did what all movies-to-stage adaptations should do: Serve as an homage to the original while creating a coherent and enjoyable night for the live audience.
With the exception of a new subplot (that never quite flourishes) involving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and a few of the minor characters talking about joining the Freedom Riders, all of the elements of the 30-year-old movie are represented.
And nearly the entire soundtrack, which sold a whopping 11 million copies in the United States alone, is represented either live (through an eight-piece, onstage band), through the original recordings or hints of an instrumental (Hello, “She’s Like the Wind”).
But don’t go to “Dirty Dancing” expecting Johnny Castle (here played by Christopher Tierney) nor Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jillian Mueller) to break out in song. The vocals are handled mainly by talented members of the ensemble, and are incredibly effective at times, especially on the romantic interlude covered by “In the Still of the Night.”
Nevertheless, the lead performers are spot-on for their movie counterparts, with Tierney packing the full Swayze mojo, while Mueller, in a floppy curly headed wig, is a visual and vocal ringer for Jennifer Grey.
The supporting players fare well here too, and although Jon Edward Powell is effective as Baby’s physician father, he doesn’t fall into Jerry Orbach’s film portrayal, making the character his own. Alyssa Brizzi is a hoot as Baby’s sister, Gary Lynch is a joy as resort owner Max Kellerman and Matt Surges shines as Kellerman’s grandson and would-be love interest for Baby.
Eleanor Bergstein’s stage script, based on her own semiautobiographical screenplay, does include a few choice line additions, but keeps the entire spirit of the script intact.
Expanding on the movie are the number of dance scenes, both with and without Johnny and Baby. Michele Lynch’s choreography, based on the original dance moves by Kate Champion, at times almost make you forget there’s a storyline there.
The biggest surprise in the stage “Dirty Dancing” is in its technical brilliance. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set design carries a theme of broken shutters, which adds to the clandestine feel of some of the scenes. A rotating center-stage set piece adds to the difficulty of some of the dances.
A one-story-high video screen is effective in helping convey the story, and it easily parts for several of the big entrances that add to the spectacle of “Dirty Dancing.”
Video is effectively (and almost comically) used in re-creating some of the outdoor scenes with Johnny’s attempts to teach Baby how to dance on a log in the forest, in a field and eventually in a lake.
With countless showings on cable TV, a recent 30th anniversary Blu-Ray release and a made-for-TV remake scheduled on ABC next month, “Dirty Dancing” has never really gone away. And the spark of a well-done live version of the beloved story is doing its best to fan those flames.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday
Where: Century II, 225 W. Douglas
What: Theater League touring show. Due to mature themes, this show is recommended for ages 12 and older.
Tickets: $55-$90, available at wichitatix.com or 316-303-8100. Show is mostly sold out.