Put this Baby in the Corner

Dirty Dancing doesn't live up to all the hype


The promise “You’ll have the time of your life” headlines a piece of Dirty Dancing publicity, and the daily’s GO section hyped expectations before the musical’s Orpheum opening by insisting, “It’ll be the ‘Time of Your Life’ and then some.”

I’d have settled for the time of my life, happily borrowing again from its best-known song, with no complaint if deprived of “then some.”

Alas, I find myself struggling instead for something nice to say about the latest in the Omaha Performing Arts Broadway Across America Series. By the way, the daily also identifies it as a “Touring Broadway Musical.”

If you like to Google such matters, search diligently for any evidence that it ever ran on Broadway. The Aussies loved it, Londoners gave it a long run and it was a hit in Hamburg, but never saw the Great White Way.

So here’s the first of a few points in its favor: Lots of good theater doesn’t go on Broadway. And the show, officially titled Dirty Dancing—the Classic Story on Stage, is likely to please fans of the 1980s film with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

At least the packed house on opening night screamed in recognition at a familiar line and an iconic lift from a B movie one never expected to hear labeled “Classic.”

More good moments: The resort band leader (Jerome Harmann-Hardeman) singing the old standard, “There Will Never be Another You.” Ryan Jesse rocked the house when he closed out “In the Still of the Night.” Jenlee Shallow gave a brief but effective climax to “We Shall Overcome.”

But even these pluses require a caveat: If you happen to like a song, don’t expect to hear very much of it. More on that later, but back to accentuating the positive.

The story of 17-year-old “Baby” Houseman falling for an adult dance instructor at a Catskills resort benefits from filmed resort scenes projected as backdrops and dropping Baby’s dance lessons from teacher Johnny Castle into a projected lake and grassy field. And occasional rain storms add some authenticity.

But authenticity isn’t a word that applies to much. Take the note that an otherwise hedonistic resort becomes a hotbed of civil rights activism, justifying bits of “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome” and the famed “I have a dream” speech. Yes, Baby’s idealism provides a touch of justification, but it’s still a stretch.

Getting back to the borrowed songs from the ’60s and elsewhere, you’re lucky to get more than the title of “Duke of Earl” and others. Just when it seems Baby’s parents, Dr. Jake and Marjorie Houseman, will give us a duet on “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” it’s over, letting us hear only enough to suggest we didn’t miss much.

Unfortunately, we get quite enough of such original songs as “Lisa’s Hula” and the absolutely awful “Kellerman’s Anthem.” As for the leads, Gillian Abbott as Baby and Christopher Tierney as dancer Johnny Castle, they don’t sing at all.

So, you wonder, what about the dirty dancing?  Well, we see all that it has to offer in the way of grinding and leg-lifting in an early scene in the resort’s staff quarters, and we see a lot of the same moves repeated often and again at the end. Which reminds me, another plus: Jenny Winton, as Penny the dance partner Baby replaces after Penny’s abortion, has lovely long legs.

I can only hope readers find these comments a challenge to prove me wrong. See for yourself and declare me a jaded curmudgeon.

One more point that may override the rest for some viewers: I’m no prude who bristles at nudity or four-letter words, both absent from this show. But it’s disturbing to see it treated as romantic when an older man takes a vulnerable 17-year-old to bed and then goes on to portray him as a good guy.

I’ve enjoyed every previous show brought here by Omaha Performing Arts. But you can’t win them all.

Dirty Dancing—the Classic Story on Stage  runs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22 at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Tickets are$30 to $95, available at TicketOmaha, the Holland Center or by calling 402.345.0606.


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