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Review: 'Dirty Dancing' at Clowes Hall

June 9, 2015

Remember how you felt seeing the movie “Dirty Dancing” for the first time? Good memories, right?

Now imagine your annoying cousins acting out the entire movie, scene by scene, on your back porch.

Somewhere between those two points—and, unfortunately, closer to the latter—stands “Dirty Dancing,” the touring stage production that has mamboed into Clowes Hall (where it stays through June 14). I hesitate to say it’s part of the Broadway in Indianapolis series—which it technically is—because the show has never played Broadway nor is it likely to ever get there.

On the plus side, it’s an Equity production. But, alas, one sporting the weakest acting cast I’ve seen in any recent pro tour.

They aren’t helped by the script, which treats the source material with the kind of reverence usually reserved for holy scripture. “Just put the movie on stage” seems to be the driving philosophy, but what do you do about losing Jennifer Gray’s charming accessibility? And how do you replace editing that gets us cleanly from one short scene to another? And say what you want about Patrick Swayze as an actor, at least he wasn't generic like his replacement here.

The traditional screen-to-stage approach would have been to give Frances “Baby” Houseman (Gillian Abbott) and her dance instructor beau Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande) something to sing about. But don’t look for them to belt any original songs—or unoriginal songs for that matter—on stage. Those chores are usually handled by on- and off-stage folks not central to the plot. Other times, music (more than 40 numbers are listed in the program) just kind of plays for a bit, leaving the core characters with little to do at the ends of scenes except walk off stage.

The device might have worked if playwright Eleanor Bergstein (who also penned the film) and the creative team had any theatrical vision. Here we get lots and lots of short scenes, semi-realistic video to take us from dining hall to lake to golf course, unfunny transitional bits, and dance sequences that only generate excitement during the finale. Even the stage versions of “Ghost” and “Flashdance” tried harder.

The time of my life? Heck, I didn’t even have the time of my night.

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