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Musical theatre in its finest form, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage continues at the Schuster Center through March 19.
To call Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage a musical, would be largely inaccurate, as it doesn’t fit the mold of typical musicals. Somewhere near the start of the second act it struck me…none of the lead cast members have sung, nor has there been any of the typical big song and dance numbers. I should have realized it earlier, but Penny (Jennifer Mealani Jones) had me distracted with her legs. More on them later, but her legs make a duo more entertaining than Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley dancing in a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch together. Anyway, being different than a standard musical is not a negative, but it's now clear why the name of the production is called Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage.
Admittedly in the eighties I had not yet developed my fondness for chick-flicks (still waiting on Police Academy: The Classic Story on Stage) so was not very familiar with the film, meaning the story was mostly new to me. Much like for Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Jillian Mueller) it was an eye-opening experience for me, and not just because of Penny’s legs. It was supposed to be a low-key, relaxing vacation for the Houseman family at a resort, until Baby meets the dance instructor, Johnny Castle, (Christopher Tierney). Baby becomes enthralled by his style of raunchy, hip thrusting dance and yearns to learn some moves. A personal health issue involving Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, forces Baby to learn the routine so she can fill-in for her. Over the course of them practicing together, Baby and Johnny fall in love, which is against the resort’s rules and causes strife within the Houseman family for a series of other heartfelt reasons.
Though my knowledge of Dirty Dancing was rather thin, even I knew that it starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. It must be challenging for actors to fill such iconic roles, but Tierney and Mueller are successful in making it their own. As Johnny, Tierney certainly has the moves and charisma to fill such a heavy role. His abs and swiveling hips may even be dream worthy for the women in attendance. Meanwhile, it’s the heart of Baby that makes Mueller shine the most, as her spirit to succeed is her most defining trait. Baby is presented to be a plain Jane type, yet Mueller brings enough sizzle for their chemistry to explode at all the right moments.
The training sequences between Baby and Johnny are compelling, though the scenes of them practicing on a log, in a prairie, and in the water are borderline cheesy. A big screen is used to present each sitting, with their bodies visible through it, and it came off as more cheap than artistic. The scenes were almost laughable, and did result in some chuckles throughout the crowd. Purposeful? I’m not sure, but I feel it took away from the production.
As for the supporting cast, I’ll begin with Jennifer Mealani Jones as Penny, who radiates from the stage with her graceful movements and supreme beauty. I’m glad that Trump hasn’t issued a travel ban on Jones’ legs because I believe they could be registered as lethal weapons, due to their muscular bone structure and excessive length. Her impressive dance skills are displayed in a number of scenes, making it difficult to notice anyone else on stage. In addition, Jon Edward Powell gave a strong performance as Dr. Jake Houseman and Alan Scharf made an impression in a small role as Mr. Schumacher.
Most of the singing is done by Elizabeth (Chante Carmel) and Billy (Matthew Amira), who are more than capable of the responsibility. Carmel’s blessed voice is filled with soul and fills the theatre with a most pleasant sound, particularly with ‘We Shall Overcome.’ While Amira gives all of himself with a masterful performance of ‘In the Still of the Night’ which until the conclusion was the vocal highlight. Again, maybe Penny’s figure is partly to blame, but I was confused about whether some of the music was done live (offstage) or recorded.
On the subject of the dirtiness of the actual dancing, as I know some parents may be concerned, it wasn’t as risqué as I expected. Mind you, it’s set in the sixties so the standards have changed, as twerking was not yet invented. The dancing is far from being appropriate for a high school function, but there is nothing shockingly obscene. I believe that ‘Flashdance’ which was in town a couple of years ago was much more risqué.
It was the final scene of Dirty Dancing that really makes this show special, and is musical theatre in its finest form, largely due to the singing of 'The Time of My Life,’ by Carmel and Amira. The hearts of the entire audience are fully engaged and the crowd roared when Johnny uttered the famous line, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Baby and Johnny then share their dance together, which is truly a magical moment and a site to behold. The dance is spectacular that I didn’t even notice that Penny was also on stage.
Though it would be fitting, I won’t go as far as to say, you’ll have the time of your life, but by seeing Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage you’ll see a ‘musical’ unlike any you have ever seen before, and will enjoy it very much. Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage continues at the Schuster Center through March 19.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.