When a movie becomes a cult favorite, making it into a musical is the next step. When that film is filled with music of the era and some fine dancing, it is a natural. “Dirty Dancing” is such a film, not turned into a musical. The story takes place in the 1960’s and big city families, of means, went to resorts in the Catskills of New York. Here in the Midwest, we went to places like Nippersink Manor in Wisconsin (just over the border), and Browns Lake also in Wisconsin. In Missouri and southern Illinois, it was the Ozarks. Our resort in this story is Kellerman’s Resort. Just like the ones that I experienced as a youth, there was a “Big Building” that had rooms and a large dining hall that could be converted for big shows. There were also cabins of different sizes where the “guest families” stayed. They had all their meals in the main building. The “workers” lived in cabins that were more dormitory and ate their meals after the guests, so it was pretty much the meals that the paying guests left behind. The students and “townies” that worked, did so for room and board, some fun and their tips, which often was more than they made working the other 9 months back home.
Now you know a little more about the resort and what it means to those who work there. The families are getting away for a week, several or even the entire summer. At Kellerman’s we get into the lives of one family in particular, The Housemans. Doctor Jake Houseman (Mark Elliot Wilson) who needs to spend more time with his wife and daughters from his busy schedule. His wife, Marjorie (Margot White) is hoping that this little vacation can rekindle the candle that once burned brightly in their lives. Their eldest daughter Lisa (Alex Scolari) is a typical snob from the right side of the tracks looking down at everyone who is not like her, and then there is the youngest daughter, Frances, AKA as “Baby” (an incredible performance by Gillian Abbott, who we watch grow up right before our very eyes, from a nerdy teen with high ideals to a woman who makes things happen). This is the family that makes us see the light about who we are and what we see in life and perhaps even in our own families.
“Baby” meets our hero, a dance instructor named Johnny Castle (played to perfection by Christopher Tierney, a Hubbard Street dancer, who has the grace and style that made Patrick Swayze the perfect Johnny- Mr. Tierney has it all). It is the love that develops between this teen-ager who has it all and the talented “no one” who finds himself believing that he is indeed “someone”, thanks to “Baby”. Written by Eleanor Bergstein with direction by James Powell and choreography by Michele Lynch, this is a sparkling production that is far superior to the one that came in to Chicago before. While the 1957 Chevrolet is not here on this run ( the fake car bit is a bit silly and not needed) the special effects and video projections (Jon Driscoll) are amazing, bringing live performance and video together in a strong and unique blend. Having the musicians on stage works well as they are also the musicians at Kellerman’s.
What makes this show work is the talent that is making this road trip. In addition to the Housemans and Johnny, we have “leggy” Jenny Winton (from the Joffrey Ballet) as Johnny’s partner Penny- WOW! can she dance!,Doug Carpenter as Billy Kostecki who brings the house down when he sings his numbers (“In The Still of The Night” and “I’ve Had The Time of My Life”), Jennlee Shallow (another amazing voice) and comical Herman Petras, Gary Lynch as Max Kellerman, Ryan Jesse as his grandson, Scott McCreary, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Rachel Marie Bell, John Antony, Rachel Boone, Rashaan James II, Joshua Keith, Katelyn Prominski, Devan Watring and Adam Roberts. A very strong and highly energetic ensemble indeed!
The music of the movie and the times are also important to the theme and most of the audience knew every song they were going to hear, probably one beat before the orchestra hit the first note. In fact, they were ready for every minute awaiting that big moment when Johnny makes his statement “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”! When the final dance number was truly going strong, one could feel the vibrations from the audience members awaiting the moment when “Baby” would do the leap and Johnny would catch her over his head- “the lift”. Bravo! It was magical for me and for everyone in this full house, who rose to their feet. I think, other than the missing car, the only flaw I found in this production was the mention that Kellerman’s Resort was the first to be integrated, allowing all races to swim in the same pool. I do not believe that this would have been the case in 1963 . I am not one to bring up this but felt that they did this to balance out the cast of talented performers that are African-American. It is a small item, so let’s leave it at that!
Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 and 7:30 p.m. (except on closing-no PM)
Tickets range from $18- $85 a very affordable number for a show of this quality. They can be purchased by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticketline at 800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets, at any of the Broadway in Chicago box offices or online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com, where you can also learn more about the coming season and parking for the theaters. The Cadillac Palace is located at 151 West Randolph Street (between Wells and LaSalle).
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Dirty Dancing”.