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HAS THE DANCES, LACKS THE PASSION
By Iride Aparicio

Photos Credit: Matthew Murphy

San Francisco, CA – After realizing her film’s huge popularity, ELEANOR BERGSTEIN, the screenwriter of the script for the l987 film “DIRTY DANCING,” wrote an adaptation of her l960 story as the stage play for a musical work. Sadly, the musical version misses the things that made the movie famous. As part of the SHN season, “DIRTY DANCING” the musical version, opened on Wednesday march 2, at the Golden Gate theatre, and was received with a lukewarm reception.

Like the movie, “Dirty Dancing” the musical,  starts with Doctor Jake Houseman (MARK ELLIOT WILSON) arriving at  a luxurious Summer resort in the country, where men can play golf and women are taught dancing, with his wife, Marjorie (MARGOT WHITE) and his two daughters. Frances “Baby,”  (RACHEL BOONE) and Lisa (ALEX SCOLARI).

The ball room dancing lessons are taught by Johnnie Castle (CHRISTOPHER TIERNEY) a handsome male dancer, (playing the part that made PATRICK SWAYZE famous in the movie) and Penny Johnson (JENNY WINTON) a pretty blond.  During  the mornings, the dancers teach the guests (male and female) to dance, as a group, but also give “private” lessons at different times during the day. In the evenings,  all the guests leave their cottages, and go to the main House of the resort to eat dinner. There, they are entertained by and orchestra and different singers, and they dance.

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Christopher Tierney, and Jenny Winton teach “Baby” Rachel Boone to dance

The problem for the vacationing family, starts when “Baby” who has been raised to be  “good girl” (as virgins were called during the sixties) falls head over hill for Johnny, the dance instructor, and to help Penny (JENNIY WINSTON) his dancing partner, decides to learn to dance. What happens during her private dancing “lessons” changes her life.

The realistic projections and Video Designs of JON DRISCOLL in the musical, can actually transport the audience (visually)  to a golf course, to the interior and exterior of different places in seconds, and allows the dancers to dance on the stage, on a log over a river, on a bridge, and even roll on the lush grass of a field, and practice their dance movements submerged in its water.

In its musical part, the musical is wonderful. The dancing in all its dancers is professional.
It gives the audiende all the hit songs from the movie: ‘Hungry Eyes” “Do you love me?” Hey Baby.” and in spite that the musical orchestrations, do not have the “sound” of the songs from the sixties’ the orchestra is rich in instruments and sounds wonderful. The soloist songs, This Magic Moment” song by soloist ADRIENNE WALKER, “Do you Love Me” By Soloist JOHN ANTONY,and The Todo un Poco” by Soloist TERACE JONES, are all well vocalized, and sang with feeling.

Yet, perhap for the shortened dialogue in the musical, directed by JAMES POWEL the same story from the movie lacks the passion of the film. BOONE, who represents 17 years old  “Baby,” is a better dancer than actress, so her acting does not manage to convince the audience of her inner feelings for Johnny. She represents the actions of the story, but her representation doesn't manage to put fire in the audience. There is no chemistry between Johnny (TIERNEY) and her.

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Center, CHRISTOPHER TIERNEY as Johnny Castle

A more realistic acting of his role on that night was that of TIERNEY, as Johnny.  and as a dancers he was superb.

Penny (WINTON) is a wonderful dancer, her dancing steps are perfect but she lacks rhythm. On that night, her role could have used much more drama. As Dr. Houseman, “Baby’s” father,   WILSON also needed to give us a more dramatic performance on opening night.

Paradoxically, where DIRTY DANCING (as the Latin Dances were called at the time)  the show about dance, fails to represent the “real” Latin dances of the sixties. In dancing MAMBOS, for instance  the male and female dancers do not even touch each other when they are dancing. They just wiggle their bodies and sway their hips as they stand .facing each other or going around each other. Mambo, is not tango. It has no two bodies very close to each other moving as one. No men lifting women high in the air over their heads. (that is ballet) Most Latin dances do not LOOK elegant . Latin dances are rhythmic, so after learning their simple steps all the dances need to do is move, is their bodies in rhythm with the music. When learning the roles of Dancing instructors of the time, Penny (JENNY WINSTON) and Johnny (TIERNEY)  should have been told that.

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TIERNEY left  dances an stylist dance with WINTON in DIRTY DANCING

To get the dancing they are teaching, authentic, could have made a better musical.

For those who love to watch people dancing well, DIRTY DANCING will be the show to see. For those who loved the movie ,however, and wanted to feel again the burning passion of its lovers  recreated on the stage, it will be obvious that this version of DIRTY DANCING, needs some changes.

DIRTY DANCING will play at the SHN GOLDEN GATE THEATRE in San Francisco (#1 Taylor Street) until March 20. For tickets call 800-746-1799 or go to www.shnsf.com.