Dirty Dancing captures a magic moment in Chicago

Dirty Dancing captures a magic moment in Chicago
Johnny and Baby in Dirty Dancing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘Dirty Dancing — the Classic Story On Stage’ opened Wednesday night to a full house at Chicago’s Cadillac Place Theatre.

Eleanor Bergstein’s stage adaptation of the popular 1987 summer film, ‘Dirty Dancing,’ has been seen by millions during its ongoing global tour (since 2004)–providing a lively escape, especially for fans of the movie.

The high-energy jukebox musical offers non-stop dancing and a line-up of oldies but goodies including “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and the showstopping “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”

Over 30 songs, to be exact, keep things moving during the 2 hour and 20 minute song and dance extravaganza.

The songs, some of which are excerpts and others the full-blown versions are a mix of recorded musical hits from the 1960s and live renditions by the onstage orchestra under the direction of Alan J. Plado.

“This Magic Moment” opens the show while a silhouetted couple make their moves in an artistic rendering behind a scrim that foreshadows what’s to come.

We see 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Gillian Abbott, who could be a double for Jennifer Gray who played Baby in the movie), stage left, packing her bags for the family’s three week summer vacation in the Catskills…and learn a lot about who she is.

She is smart…she’ll be heading to Mount Holyoke College in the fall. She cares…she dreams of entering the Peace Corps. She is her daddy’s little girl…and he is her hero.

It’s the summer of 1963, a time when days were more carefree and innocent. Kennedy was still alive and King’s dream seemed possible.

The Houseman family, Dad, Jake, a doctor, (Mark Elliot Wilson), Mom, Marjorie, a stay at home mother (Margot White), boy crazy big sister, Lisa, (Alex Scolari) and Baby, the baby of the family are typical of many New York Jewish-American families of means from the ’50’s and ’60’s in that they summered at Catskills resorts in upstate New York.

Their destination, Kellerman’s Resort, based on the actual Brown’s Hotel in the Catskills, is a stereotype of a number of resorts in the area known collectively as the Borscht Belt Hotels.

The resorts offered non-stop entertainment, a variety of recreational opportunities and white tablecloth dining served up by Ivy League waiters who were encouraged to be “nice” especially to the daughters of their wealthy clientele.

Baby’s coming of age story begins when she decides to explore the grounds on her own. Soon she bumps into Billy (Doug Carpenter), part of the entertainment staff. She offers to help him with the watermelons he is carrying to the staff area where an all night party is taking place. There she sees dance instructor Johnny Castle (Christopher Tierney) and the rest is history.

Gillian Abbott and Doug Carpenter in “Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage.” (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Gillian Abbott and Doug Carpenter in “Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage.” (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Baby is mesmerized by the erotic dancing she witnesses and is taken immediately with Johnny and his beautiful dance partner Penny Johnson (Jenny Winton).

When she learns of Jenny’s dilemma–being impregnated by one of the Yale students who has refused to help her–Baby knows she must help no matter the consequences to herself.

The stage adaptation of Dirty Dancing’ doesn’t veer far from its cinematic roots, following the film, many times, word for word.

The staging has a film-like feel—especially when Johnny tries to teach Baby a running lift, first by balancing on a log, then in a field and in water–the entire stage projecting a dream-like field and lake.

There is also humor when instead of bringing an entire car on stage the actors play the scene for laughs pretending they’re in a car through exaggerated movements and sound effects. Another humorous moment is when Baby’s big sister Lisa performs her purposely out of sync “Hula.”

High notes of the show include Doug Carpenter, who plays Johnny’s cousin Billy, with a haunting rendition  of “In the Still of the Night” and Jennlee Shallow’s beautifully sung “You Don’t Own Me” and the newly added “We Shall Overcome.”

There’s also some pro dancing from the likes of Jenny Winston, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer, who is amazing as Johnny’s original dance partner, Penny.  Then there’s Christopher Tierney as Johnny whose athletic moves on the dance floor prove beyond a doubt that he can dance.

The energetic finale brings the audience to their feet and ends the evening on a high note providing a magic moment for many.

SHOW INFORMATION:

Tickets: range in price from $18-$85 and are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online.

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.

When: Now through August 30, 2015.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

ABOUT:

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage began as an eight-week staged workshop in Manhattan in the fall of 2001. It was first performed at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, Australia in November 2004 before embarking upon a hugely successful tour of Australia and New Zealand. A new production opened at the Theater Neue Flora in Hamburg, Germany in March 2006 where it broke records for achieving the highest advance in European history.

The production began performances on London’s West End in October 2006 with an £11 million advance and went on to become the longest running show in the history of the Aldwych Theatre. It closed in July 2011 in advance of a two-year UK national tour and then returned to London for a strictly limited season at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage has gone on to perform across the world in markets as diverse as Utrecht, Holland, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. Most recently, it has been represented by a new UK tour (which launched March 2014 in Bristol), a German tour (which launched April 2014 in Berlin) and a French tour (which is currently playing Paris). The show returned to Australia with a new tour that premiered in late 2014 in honor of the stage production’s 10th anniversary. The current North American tour launched in Washington, DC in August 2014 and is currently booked through the 2015-2016 season.

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