People were still shuffling in to find their seats at the Marcus Center Tuesday for the opening night of Dirty Dancing on stage, when a deep, omnipresent voice filler the Theater. “Welcome to Dirty Dancing ladies and gentlemen. May we also remind you that this is 1963 where cell phones have not yet been invented.” The voice boomed.
With the exception of a few younger couples, most of the fairly full house were adults who would’ve lived the glory days of the 1980’s with its shoulder pads and feathered hair, around when the original flick came out in 1987.
Anyone who had seen the classic knew within a few notes of the orchestra opening, what favorite song was about to come on. Not surprisingly, it took only a few minutes into the performance for the band to play its first “teaser” notes of the “The Time of my Life.”
With vast number of singing and dance numbers, the show needed an element to smooth the transitions. They found this in impressive backdrops. Layered screens with moving images; orange and purple sunsets, light rains, or green rolling-hills pulled the audience into the ambience of every scene.
The musicians were stationed high above the heads of the actors in the upper part of the stage. Sliding, gapped wood painted panels veiled or unveiled them seamlessly, just as smoothly as the other scene changes. Yet, most people didn’t come for the set changes; they came for the dancing, dirty or otherwise.
“Whoo-whoos!” Erupted from the female audience members at Johnny Castle’s, played by Christopher Tierney, entrance to the mainstage in his all black bad boy ensemble. The first few times Tierney dances with fellow camp dance instructor Penny Johnson, it’s hard not to get hooked watching just the two of them.
Penny, played by professional dancer Jenny Winton, spins around in Tierney’s arms so swiftly and gracefully that the audience gasped as he caught her at the last moment of an intricate throw. Winton’s strong background in professional ballet showed onstage through elegance and the ease at which she danced in some of the more difficult routines.
Enter Frances “Baby” Houseman, played by Gillian Abbott in her National Tour Debut. The dancing delivered by the two leads was also impressive, albeit one slip where Tierney stumbled slightly while lifting Abbott onto the bed in one of the steamy bedroom scenes. Other steamy scenes were several Pg-13 encounters where Abbott was in a white bra, running her hand over Tierney’ taut tush, vice versa, or tangled up on one another in a mess of blue sheets.
The audience left their modesty at home to gaze at the chiseled, bare-chested, barefoot Tierney, standing at one point in only white boxers. While pulling on his signature tight, black 60’s jeans in that same scene, it might be said that there is no graceful way to tuck in your “junk” when pulling on something like skinny jeans; yet he manages it without too much mishap.
“I love this one,” said an audience member a few rows back as the first few lines of “Come Here Lover Boy” drifted through the hall. Classic scenes like Johnny teaching Baby balance on the log were reinvented with a comic touch. Abbott crawls across the log on hands and knees for most of that scene.”
“You know the best place to practice lifts is in the water,” Tierney says while lying in a “grass field with Abbott. The audience laughed when the field screens abruptly changed into the lake. The two invoked more laughter by bursting out of the “water” and dramatically tossing their wet hair back and forth in a Prince Charming style, or possibly a shout out to Willow Smith’s “I Whip my Hair Back and Forth.”
Tierney takes the stage via the left aisle in the audience under the spotlight for the famous last dance. “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” Tierney said as he crossed the stage. His words spread like a wildfire and swept the room as everyone anticipated the new, yet familiar finale, like presents on Christmas morning.
“The Time of my Life” emanated through a now standing audience. Tierney and Abbott glide across the stage, away from each other. Tierney nods to her slightly. She takes a breath, and runs into the final lift which he meets with steady arms while she smiles to everyone smiling back.
Despite the blinking strobe-style purple and orange lights flashing at the audience for the final number being enough to make you feel trapped in a weird Vegas casino dream, the show was well executed and wonderfully reinterpreted for live theater and audience excited to relive the classic story on stage.