SCHENECTADY — I do not remember the movie “Dirty Dancing” being as lengthy, or as dull as the stage version that dropped into town Tuesday night at Proctors. I remember the music from the movie, the dancing, of course, and I certainly remember learning “that nobody puts Baby in a corner.” But I don’t remember the movie dragging on like the stage show does.
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $30-$100
MORE INFO: 518-346-6204, www.proctors.org
But of course, that was almost 30 years ago and the reach for youthful nostalgia can blind you to the obvious. Sometimes things are best left to be remembered and not revisited. Except perhaps, on streaming video with a bowl of popcorn.
The remembrance of things past has a strong pull on all of us — and it has extended into the world of musical theater. This phenomenon might explain the “jukebox musicals” and “theme park musicals” that have popped up over the past few decades. “Flashdance,” “Fame,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Xanadu” — even “Happy Days the Musical” are just a few that have been swiped from drive-in screens and now re-worked — or more often not — for the stage with varying measures of success.
Most of these movies-turned-stage-shows are not very good. Cobbled together, not to create something artful, but to present a scrapbook or live pageant from our past. They pander to what we want, what we expect, and are intent on not upsetting the success of the original. That’s the secret on how they make money.
Almost everyone in the audience knows the story of “Dirty Dancing,” amusingly now subtitled “The Classic Story” for the stage. Purportedly the fond autobiographical memory of writer Eleanor Bergstein’s 1963 Catskill summer vacation, when 17-year-old Eleanor — here called Frances “Baby” Houseman — was on the verge of womanhood. Things are changing and in the fall, Baby is off to Mount Holyoke (to major in the economic challenges of Third World countries) and then for a few years in the Peace Corps.
Baby has a pretty impressive life agenda. First she has to make it through the next three weeks at the Kellerman’s Catskill Resort. Skulking around where she shouldn’t, Baby meets Johnny Castle — bad boy dance instructor and gigolo in training — and the adventure begins. What happens next? Baby learns the mambo, lies to her father to fund a new friend’s back-street abortion and loses her virginity. Well, Baby can strike those life lessons off the list. The evening is a strange mix of the film “Porky’s,” a Judy Blume novel and a few numbers from the old television show “Hullabaloo.”
If this sounds less than scintillating or entertaining or logical, it truly doesn’t matter — the audience loved it.
Browyn Reed portrays all of Baby’s youthful ambition and caring with a quiet and innocent determination. And she is a very fine dancer, able to metamorphose from awkward dancing girl to dirty dancing girl right before our eyes.
Christopher Tierney has the hair, swagger, smolder and all the allure that Patrick Swayze did in the film and — oh yeah — Tierney’s a hell of a good dancer too. Jennifer Mealani Jones as Penny, Johnny’s usual dance partner, is a leggy twin for Broadway’s Cady Huffman and proves an artful dancer.
Great comic support is offered by Alan Sharf, and Matt Sturges. And a special shout out to Alyssa Brizzi’s somewhat demented but perilously amusing performance as Baby’s sister Lisa. Brizzi’s hula number in the second act is a comic highlight.
Singers Chante Carmel and Jordan Edwin André offer powerful vocal support for the songs the audience came to hear. And, then, Reed and Tierney’s final dance got the audience up and cheering, giving most a quick rush back to the “time of their life.”
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