Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Dirty Dancing
National Tour

Also see Gil's reviews of Dreamgirls, Fools, The Boy Who Loved Monsters and the Girl Who Loved Peas, Conviction, A Celebration of Harold Pinter and Blockbuster Broadway

Jillian Mueller and Samuel Pergande
With so many successful movies being turned into musicals, I guess it seemed inevitable that the hit film Dirty Dancing would become a stage show. Now with the tagline "The Classic Story on Stage," the adaptation keeps all of the famous hit film tunes, as well as an almost word for word transfer of the screenplay. However, unlike recent well reviewed movie to stage transfers, there is no new original stage score to speak of, so it's almost like a play with music. But the biggest missing piece is that Dirty Dancing isn't really an actually "musical," in that, while they do a lot of dancing, none of the main cast does any singing. Fortunately, there are exceptional singers in the supporting cast who deliver the hit tunes from the film's soundtrack as well as belt out several classics, and, overall, the show ends up being a crowd pleaser due to the energetically executed dancing and the theatricality of the entire experience. However, it's far from perfect as a stage musical.

The story is the same as the film. It's 1963 and Frances "Baby" Houseman and her family are on a three-week vacation at a resort in the Catskill Mountains. While Baby is a good girl, about to go off to college in the fall, she discovers romance and "dirty dancing" from the resort's dance instructor Johnny, and grows up a lot over the course of the show.

Eleanor Bergstein adapted her screenplay for the stage and, while all of the main memorable and iconic scenes and lines from the film are retained, she hasn't done a good enough job as far as the requirements of character development are for the theatre. There are many scenes that end abruptly, just like in the film, and while they may work fine on screen where we can see close-ups of the actors to better understand their emotions, it just falls flat on stage. There are many moments that cry out for a character to break into song to impart their inner feelings or emotions; instead we just get a hasty change to the next scene.

Director James Powell does an exceptional job of providing a cinematic and swift flow to the show, with Stephen Brimson Lewis' set design effectively incorporating some superb video footage and projections by Jon Driscoll. Kate Champion choreographed the dances for the film, and Michele Lynch and Craig Wilson are credited for recreating the steps for the stage as well as adding in plenty of additional ones. There are various styles represented, so it's understandable why three choreographers were needed, and yes, the several memorable ones from the film are knock-outs when seen live on stage. It is in these moments when the show really becomes alive, though there are far too few of those moments.

As Baby and Johnny, Jillian Mueller and Samuel Pergande are quite good. Mueller makes Baby a caring and engaging person who is eager to help others, and Pergande's exceptional skill as a dancer is matched by his ability to make Johnny three dimensional and not just a caricature. Jenny Winton, as Johnny's dance partner Penny, creates some visually striking dance moves. As Baby's parents, Mark Elliot Wilson and Caralyn Kozlowski are good, with Wilson bringing a combination of warmth, stubbornness, care, and responsibility to his role. The majority of the songs are sung by Jennlee Shallow and Doug Carpenter, and they are sensational. Carpenter's solo on "In the Still of the Night" brought the house down at the performance I attended, as did their duet on the hit song from the film "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," which is directed expertly to not only spotlight Mueller and Pergande's dancing but also Shallow and Carpenter's soaring vocals.

"Nostalgic" and "feel-good" are the two adjectives that come to mind when talking about the film Dirty Dancing and the same could be said of the stage adaptation. While an actual musical version of the story could prove quite effective, with original songs sung by the characters in order for us to better understand their thoughts and emotions, the stage version is still a fun time with a story full of romance, humor and almost non-stop dancing. While people who have never seen the film may not exactly have the "time of their life," most fans of the movie will find the stage version an addictive, fun-filled, enjoyable experience.

Dirty Dancing runs through February 22nd, 2015, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 480 965-3434. Additional tour dates can be found at

Director: James Powell
Choreographer: Michelle Lynch
Original Choreography by: Kate Champion
Ballroom & Latin Choreographer: Craig Wilson Music Supervision and Orchestrations: Conrad Helfrich
Set Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Video & Projection Designer: Jon Driscoll
Costume Designer: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell
Sound Designer: Bobby Aitken

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Frances "Baby" Houseman: Jillian Mueller
Elizabeth/Singer: Jennlee Shallow
Dr. Jake Houseman: Mark Elliot Wilson
Marjorie Houseman: Caralyn Kozlowski
Lisa Houseman: Emily Rice
Billy Kostecki / Singer: Doug Carpenter
Max Kellerman: Gary Lynch
Neil Kellerman: Jesse Liebman
Penny Johnson: Jenny Winton
Johnny Castle: Samuel Pergande
Mr. Schumacher: Herman Petras
Robbie: Scott McCreary
Tito Suarez: Jerome Harmann-Hardeman
Vivian Pressman: Amanda Brantley
Moe Pressman: John Anthony
Ensemble: John Anthony, Rachel Boone, Amanda Brantley, Rashaan James II, Joshua Keith, Michael Milton, Phoebe Pearl, Virginia Preston, Jennlee Shallow, Paul Victor

Photo: Matthew Murphy

--Gil Benbrook

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