One of the reasons I think we cherish our favorite movies and music from childhood is because they serve as a way to reconnect with our past. Our pop culture fandoms are like old friends always there when you need them. It’s why curling up on the couch and watching a movie like Dirty Dancing on a dreary Saturday afternoon feels so damn good. So imagine how amazing it would be to watch it live on stage?
That’s exactly what I got when seeing Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage at San Francisco’s legendary SHN Golden Gate Theater. With a script by the same genius who wrote the film, Eleanor Bergstein, direction by James Powell, phenomenal choreography by Kate Champion, Michelle Lynch, and David Scothford, and a cast headed by Christopher Tierney (Johnny), Rachel Boone (Baby), and Jenny Winton (Penny), this show gave me all I wanted and then some.
The show remained true to the original film (including a number of the famous scenes that were edited out of the original theatrical release but can be captured on occasion when the full version airs on TV) as well as a handful of additional scenes Bergstein had originally wanted to include in the film but did not. The added scenes and moments only add to the story and the depth of the characters; they feel natural to the flow of the plot, even for those of us who know the plot by heart...
The set design was a creative use of lights and projection, which truly made it feel like the actors were in the Catskills versus a San Francisco stage. The use of projection during the lift scene in the lake was a creative and funny way to stay true to one of the more legendary scenes of the film. Though the scene was a bit kitschy, the kitchiness of it was embraced by the actors Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and Rachel Boone (Baby) and was met with warm laughter by the audience.
I was honestly nervous about casting of this show, coming into it, since they were all such iconic parts played by such iconic actors. Especially Johnny Castle; part of the appeal of Patrick Swayze as Johnny was the ruggedness manliness combined with the grace and beauty of a trained dancer and a natural charisma that altered the dating standards for an entire generation of girls. Finding a man to capture that, to me, seemed like an impossible quest. But I was wrong, because Christopher Tierney (whose ballet background is similar to Swayze’s) got every single thing right. From the moves to the voice. There was not one moment when I didn’t completely buy that I was in the same room as Johnny Castle.
And finally the biggest stars of the show, the music and the moves left me breathless. The famous soundtrack (it’s two soundtracks have sold more than 39 million copies and counting, and the original soundtrack continues to hold its place as the 3rd best selling soundtrack of all time) was made even better with the addition of a few songs Eleanor Bergstein had been unable to secure the rights to for the movie. And the moves - well the movies that changed the entire landscape of ballroom AND dirty dancing were fast, precise and sexy as ever. And the famous dance scene at the end, with the spine tingling vocals of Adrienne Walker and Doug Carpenter, left the crowd on their feet and applauding. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the end of the show didn’t leave me wiping a tear or two from my eye. Not necessarily because the show was that good (though it was) but because it left me feeling like I’d just spent two hours with some childhood friends I hadn’t seen in a very long time.
“Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage” continues it’s run at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre through March 20, then it makes it’s way to Orlando! I highly recommend seeing it when it comes to a stage near you (check the upcoming tour dates here). You will definitely have the time of your life…