Review: 'Dirty Dancing' on Tour

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Waterbury, CT - The most famous project of writer Eleanor Bergstein was one of the most successful independent films of all time, ‘Dirty Dancing.’ Spurred on by the multiple viewings of audiences all over the world, the writer decided to combine dance, music and the coming of age story onstage in a new way that would allow fans of the film to be more physically involved in the story. It also allowed her to add new scenes not in the movie, as well as songs that she had wanted for the film and had been unable to obtain, including “Save the Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters and “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” by Marvin Gaye. The result is the show ‘Dirty Dancing The Classic Story on Stage,’ not quite a musical, but more of a dance-ical.

The ensemble for the tour that stopped at the Palace Theater in Waterbury this weekend are outstanding dancers and the dancing, dirty or otherwise is the star of the show. There is an onstage orchestra that mostly provides the dance music and only sometimes backs a soloist; Chante Carmel sings her heart out on a couple of numbers and Jordan Edwin Andre has a couple of solos. It is not a traditional musical, but the well-known story (complete with the memorable lines) and the original choreography by Kate Champion, choreography by Michele Lynch and ballroom and Latin choreography by Craig Wilson makes it quite the event. We were promised that the show would explode with “heart-pounding music” and at times it was really too loud for the massive space of the Palace. James Powell directed the cast to make the show fit on various stages, so there was lots of walking in a circle to indicate a new location. The passionate romance is definitely there as well, and there are a few bad words thrown in that I didn’t remember from the film. 

Bronwyn Reed becomes Francis “Baby” Houseman and knows that the audience expects her to be much like the character in the movie and she does it well in the curly wig. The lovely dancer makes her national tour debut in this production. Christopher Tierney has a wonderfully deep voice that gives his version of Johnny Castle another layer of appeal. He is a fine dancer and very easy of the eyes. Spectacular dancing is the hallmark of the Penny Johnson character and the lovely Jennifer Mealani Jones (not surprisingly featured on season 10 of “So You Think You Can Dance”) delivers exactly that in the role. 

The slightly younger-looking Houseman family is played by Jon Edward Powell as Dr. Houseman, Hannah Jane McMurray as his wife Marjorie, and Alyssa Brizzi as the vapid Lisa. Gary Lynch reprises the role of Max Kellerman and Matt Surges is the ambitious Neil Kellerman, who in this version gets an extra measure of good character. Alan Scharf plays the elderly Mr. Schumacher (alas there is no Mrs. Schumacher) and Jerome Harmann Hardeman plays the band leader Tito Suarez, whose role is expanded a bit here. Matthew Amira, who was in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ at Ogunquit Playhouse and ‘Fiddler’ at Goodspeed, is the cad Robbie Gould and Jennifer Dillow is a slinky Vivian Pressman. 

Overall, I liked the additional scenes that included the speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other current events in the summer of 1963. While the opening announcements reminded us that cell phones were not available in that era, the set design could not have been more electronic. Massive projections took us to the settings in the film, including the balancing log and the lake in which to practice lifts. The set designer was Stephen Brimson Lewis and Jon Driscoll was in charge of the video and projections. The lighting by Tim Mitchell was pretty impressive throughout, with uneven sound design by Bobby Aitken. Jennifer Irwin designed the mostly familiar costumes. 

The touring company has a closing matinee at the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Sunday and then moves on to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Photo: Matthew Murphy