Dirty Dancing – The Classic On Stage – An Atlanta Theater Fans Review

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Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta Presents Dirty Dancing

Jillian Mueller (Baby) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny). Photo by Matthew Murphy

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” may have earned the moniker of being the cheesiest line from a movie, but when Samuel Pergande as Johnny said the famous words, an energetic cheer erupted in the opening night audience for Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage. If only that were the response the whole evening.

After a smashing run in London’s West End, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage has embarked on a U.S. tour, skipping a Broadway engagement. While the show has worked well in Australia and England, it likely will not have the same success stateside.

Nostalgia and love for the movie aside, the musical as whole is rather pedestrian. Yes, there is eye catching choreography with some vocal performances that will have you ready to leap to your feet in applause, but the production lacks the sexiness and the mystique that made the 1987 movie a blockbuster.

Having the audience laugh at the staging of a scene is never a good sign. And that type of laughter occurred several times in the show, especially during the iconic lift scene. The grassy meadow projections as a transition didn’t help it either. For the most part, the projections neither add nor take away from the production, but in a few scenes like this one, they ruin the moment.

Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta

Samuel Pergande (Johnny) and Jenny Winton (Penny). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Written by Eleanor Bergstein, who also wrote the screenplay, the musical uses much of the same dialogue and the music of the hit movie (some political dialogue is added); however, the first act seems choppy and bounces from scene to scene, without the fluidity the story needs. The quick scene transitions don’t seem to translate well to the stage. On the other hand, the second act feels move finely woven together and tends to follow the movie more.

An untraditional musical, Dirty Dancing tells the story of the idealistic and headstrong Baby (Jillian Mueller) and the good girl/bad boy love story in a unique way. None of the main characters sing. Instead ensemble members sing the songs that are placed well and feel natural while watching the show.

Visually, outside of the projections, the show is filled with dazzling choreography and colorful costumes that compliment the movements on stage. The impeccable dancing and solid acting performances captivate the audience and bring the viewers back into the story when the tacky moments lose them.

Mueller gives Baby a genuine innocence, and while her interpretation is different than Jennifer Grey’s well-known take, she displays everything that people love about the character. However, Pergande has the good looks and dancing forté to make Johnny appealing, but he doesn’t quite have the swagger to make the bad boy part of the character stand out. Jennlee Shallow delivers fabulous vocals for many of the show’s popular songs. Her sleek, soulful rendition of “You Don’t Own Me” will leave you longing for more.

Jennlee Shallow (Elizabeth), Doug Carpenter (Billy). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Jennlee Shallow (Elizabeth), Doug Carpenter (Billy). Photo by Matthew Murphy

What escapes this engagement of the production is the intimacy that is needed to for the audience to really care for and root for the characters. For those that love the grandeur and the experience of seeing a show at the Fox Theatre, the idea that it isn’t the best venue for some shows is a thought that is often swept under the rug. This show, though, would work better in a smaller theater like the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre or the Alliance Stage, both of which lack the seating capacity of the Fox.

So many scenes from the movie didn’t translate well in such a large house, causing things that shouldn’t have been funny to elicit roars of laughter from the audience. In a more intimate house, where the audience is closer to the stage, the production could have an entirely different effect on the audience. The Aldwych Theatre, where it played in London to sold out crowds, only seats 1,200 people, compared to the almost 5,000 seat Fox Theatre.

Should you see it? If you like the movie and don’t mind the ticket price for a mediocre production, then you will have a good time. The story is strong and makes the show entertaining, but if you are on the fence, wait for Newsies, Wicked or Pippin.

Part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta Series, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage runs through November 30, 2014 at the Fox Theatre. Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre Box Office, online or by phone at 855-285-8499. For more information on the Broad in Atlanta season, visit http://www.broadwayinatlanta.com/.

– Kenny Norton