The Playbill for the national tour of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, now playing at Boston's Opera House, has a number of telling omissions. There's no mention anywhere of a librettist, a composer, or a lyricist. And why? Because not a single shred of creativity or original thought went into mounting this lazy, venal, and cynical enterprise. Even the guy who sings "I Had the Time of My Life" sounds exactly like Bill Medley on the original recording.
Say what you want about the stage versions of Footloose and Saturday Night Fever. The creators at least made the effort to integrate the songs into those shows and put them in the mouths of the main characters. But with Dirty Dancing, we have groundskeepers and chambermaids walking through the scenes singing the songs that many of us know, and some of us even love. (Though not I.) Baby and Johnny never sing a note.
Is this even a musical? Well, I happen to be of the opinion that, if the people who created a show call it a musical, then it's a musical. So Contact is a musical. Movin' Out is a musical. But note that the title of the show at hand is Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, and not Dirty Dancing: The Musical. It's like an admission of guilt on the part of the creators here. "Basically, we didn't even try."
But let's for the moment accede that Dirty Dancing is, indeed, a musical. The question is: is it any good? Is it entertaining? Does it tell a compelling story about characters whom we care about, and engage us with humor and pathos along the way?
There's certainly a lot of action on stage, but there's really no focus. The wall-to-wall dance blends into an undifferentiated morass. For example, in one scene, Johnny and his dance partner demonstrate the mambo to the resort guests. Then, in the next scene, they're supposed to be letting their hair down and performing the titular "dirty dancing" in the staff quarters. But choreographer Kate Champion hasn't managed to find a way to make these two styles look different.
The whole production suffers from the same bland, uniform indifference. It also suffers from an over-reliance on numerous antiquated theatrical techniques: blackouts, crossovers, scenes-in-one, and irrelevant dance to cover set changes.
The regular Johnny Castle was out sick for this performance, so we got standby Easton Smith. To put it bluntly, except for his dancing, which is decent, Smith has no business on a professional stage. His acting is as flat as his hairstyle. He makes Patrick Swayze seem almost lifelike by comparison. Apparently the producers placed dancing first among their criteria for the role, but Smith doesn't have the acting chops to make Johnny sympathetic or credible.
There were a few bright spots in the cast, including Amanda Leigh Cobb (The Coast of Utopia) as Baby. Cobb is simply a terrific actress, very natural and endearing. Not surprising, since she boasts an MFA from Yale Drama, no less. (Oh, the indignity.) The scene in which Baby apologizes to and confronts her father almost made this turkey worth seeing. And then there was the always reliable Kaitlin Hopkins (Bat Boy, The Great American Trailer Park Musical) as the mom, bringing humor and warmth to an admittedly minor role.
Apparently there was an orchestra hiding somewhere backstage, but I can't imagine why they even bothered. Much of the time, they were just playing recordings from the movie soundtrack anyway, for instance during "Hungry Eyes." (Pedantic aside: the lyric "I feel the magic between you and I..." is painfully ungrammatical. "Between" is a preposition, which makes "I" the object of the preposition, making the use of "me" imperative, which I can show you by drawing a very simple chart...)
It's a really a shame that this production is such a dog, because there just might be a decent musical at the heart of Dirty Dancing. Typically, movie adaptations at least add something that you couldn't get from simply renting the movie. This one doesn't. Even so, apparently the producers have every intention of taking this one to Broadway, possibly at the Neil Simon, recently vacated by the long-running Hairspray.
God help us all.