Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Dirty Dancing
National Tour
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's recent review of Arches, Balance and Light and Richard's reviews of The Unfortunates and Ondine


Christopher Tierney, Rachel Boone, and Jenny Winton
Photo by Matthew Murphy
With the tagline "The Classic Story on Stage," Dirty Dancing has pulled into SHN Golden Gate Theatre for a three-week stay. The show has been touring internationally since 2004 but has not played New York City yet. This musical attempts to reenact each scene from the 1987 film—maybe a little too much, I'm thinking. Scenes go whizzing by at rapid speed for this two hour and twenty minute (with intermission) production.

The stage version is basically a "dance musical" and the leads do not sing a note, along with dancers in the ensemble. Yes, it does have passion and romance, pounding rhythms, and some fantastic energy-driven choreography (thanks to Michele Lynch, based on Kate Champion's original dance movements). It's generally like an entertaining dance night with musical hits from the 1960s. However, there is a live orchestra on the second tier that occasionally plays numbers with vocals presented by Jerome Harmann-Hardeman and Adrienne Walker.

Dirty Dancing centers on 17-year-old Baby, who is vacationing with her family in New York's Catskill Mountains where hotels mostly for Jews are holiday camps. It's the summer of 1963 when there is a Cuban Missile Crisis and the Freedom Riders to the South are in full swing. Baby is not interested in the camp activities, like playing "Simon Says," so one night she stumbles on an all-night dance party with the staff at their gigs.

Baby is enthralled by the bawdy dance moves that these staff members are performing to heart-pounding tempos. She sees the sexy moves of Johnny Castle (the role that made a star out of Patrick Swayze on the big screen) dancing with his partner Penny. Johnny is the resort dance instructor, of course, and Baby wants to be part of this.

Penny becomes pregnant, so Johnny picks Baby as his dance partner. However, she is not up to the standards of the instructor until the very end when she really takes off with some "dirty dancing." There are some subplots in this musical but I won't go into them. If you have seen the film you know the details.

Christopher Tierney, who portrays Johnny Castle, exudes magnetism and he has some fantastic moves. Rachel Boone as Baby is a good stand-in for Jennifer Grey who played the role in film. Christopher and Rachel have good chemistry together, and both nail their portrayals while bringing a bit of their own skill to the characters. She rocks in the last dance number when she is "dirty dancing" with Christopher. Former Joffrey Ballet member Jenny Winton delivers a fine blend of power and openness in her dances as Penny.

The songs are not integrated into the plot and many are versions of the original pop songs. John Anthony has great thematic resonance when singing "Do You Love Me" in the second act. Herman Petras as Mr. Schumacher does a little funny vaudeville bit in the second. I would have liked to have seen more of him.

Dirty Dancing has some awesome projections by Jon Driscoll, creating the beautiful scenery of the Catskills. Several sequences feature a full screen of the couple running through cornfields with a flowing lake, and Baby's hair flipping out of the water. James Powell ably directs this dance piece.

Dirty Dancing runs through March 20th, 2016, at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com. For more information on the tour, visit us.dirtydancingontour.com. Coming up next is Sean Hayes in An Act of God opening at the Golden Gate on March 29.


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