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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 23, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 04
(I've NOT Had) The Time of My Life
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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(I've NOT Had) The Time of My Life

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

DIRTY DANCING, THE MUSICAL
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
January 20-February 1


Dirty Dancing is the hit movie musical that took the United States by storm. First appearing on the silver screen in 1987, the film helped make Patrick Swayze a household name. The blockbuster revitalized music from previous eras and brought forth a renewed interest in dance by creating the phenomenon of Dirty Dancing, a free-stylized, intimate, pressing close dance style. After such a huge success on celluloid, how could it NOT be turned into a stage production? Well it has, but not without controversy.

The story is known by most - a story of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks meet, fall in love, have controversy and eventually a resolution. In this situation the time and place is Kellerman's Resort in the Catskill Mountains, circa 1963. Frances 'Baby' Houseman (Jillian Mueller) is a young, idealistic, 17-year-old girl traveling with her parents and older sister to the resort for the summer. She dreams of changing the world and finding a man just like her father. Johnny Castle (Josh Drake, performing January 20) is the resort's dance instructor hired to teach classical, family-style dancing and to keep the older, female patrons 'happy.' When the two meet at a no-guests-allowed after hours party there is an instant attraction. When Johnny's dance partner can't perform a routine they have been hired for at another local resort Baby volunteers to step in and learn the routine. During the rehearsals they fall in love and the problems of class separation become evident.

The stage musical takes a few unique turns with its presentation of this celluloid classic. It didn't transfer from screen to stage as a musical, but more as a stage play with music in it. All of the songs from the movie soundtrack are presented and used in the production. But there's not a single song that is sung by any of the cast members as their own characters. It's like a Jukebox Musical, except the songs are sung by (primarily) two cast members, as sort of a Greek Chorus.

Jennlee Shallow plays 'Elizabeth,' a staff member of Kellerman's Resort, and acts as a lounge singer for most of the songs. Her voice is perfect for the '60s stylized mix of songs from ballads to Doo-Wop types. The other primary singer is Doug Carpenter who also doubles as 'Billy Kostecki' - cousin to Johnny Castle and the one responsible for introducing Baby to the 'No Guests Allowed' party. His voice is a rich baritone that suits the breakaway hit from the movie '(I've Had) The Time of My Life.' Together the two voices mix and harmonize perfectly, not once disappointing when recreating the closing song everyone is waiting for. While there are several other soloists, most of their singing is done offstage and not usually seen by the audience.

Another uniqueness of the show is the setting used. The set construction is a simple wooden slat built to represent the outside of a cabin. Everything else is done through a scrim and video projection. The famous 'lift-in-the-water' scene is done with this type of scenery. Unfortunately, the main characters looked like they were drowning under the water more than anything else. When they pretended to rise above the waves, throwing their heads back to get 'water' off their faces, it was more like a scene from The Little Mermaid (with no wetness of hair, costume or the stage). The scene was so awkwardly done that the audience actually laughed out loud. So did one of the actors.

A couple more things that make this production sort of unique is that there is very little changed from the film version. Fans of the film will be delighted as it is translated almost exactly word-for-word and gesture-for-gesture from the previous incarnation. That is literally down to the simplest hand movements. When most screen-to-stage transformations happen, there are usually subtle changes made somewhere in the translation. In this case an additional storyline of racism was added, but it is completely unnecessary. The characters of Dr. Jake Houseman (Mark Elliot Wilson) and his wife (Caralyn Kozlowski) are fluffed out and given a short scene in an attempt to make them three-dimensional characters. Since most of the actors were so flat-toned and monotonous in their presentations it seemed of little use either way.

One would think that with Dirty Dancing the choreography would be something phenomenal. And it was&in 1987 when the movie was first shown. As stated earlier the stage production recreates the film's movements almost exactly (even using actual movie footage at times), so that makes the [1963] dance styles at least - twenty-eight years obsolete.

Die-hard fans will find a certain nostalgic enjoyment to the stage production. The rest might understand the Dirty Dancing obsession more by renting the movie with cocktails. It says something when in a stage musical (or even a stage play with music), the largest applause of the evening exploded with the (rather rushed) spoken line: 'Nobody puts Baby in a corner.'

Dirty Dancing was first released on film in 1987 instantly becoming one of the biggest megahit films of the year. The blockbuster hit starred Jennifer Grey (Baby), Jerry Orbach (Dr. Houseman) and Patrick Swayze (Johnny Castle). Eleanor Bergstein based the story partially on her own life experiences. The stage production began work in 2004 and has been touring ever since. Court battles have occurred due to contract disputes by the creative team making it a behind-the-scenes production controversy. While enjoying a triumphant (if not limited) run in London, the stage production has yet to reach The Great White Way.

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(I've NOT Had) The Time of My Life
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And the winners are & Seattle Theater Writers announce the 2014 Winners of The Fourth Annual Gypsy Rose Lee Awards
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Samuel Pergande is having the time of his life: As Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing
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