The movie version of Dirty Dancing is one of those Hits That Never Should Have Been. Set in a Catskills resort in the early 1960s, is a cheesier-than-a-fromagerie romance about “bad boy” Johnny who seduces a virginal suburban princess (with the weirdly infantilizing name Baby) with his erotic hip swinging and musky masculinity. Daddy wouldn’t approve, which is what makes the romance oh-so-dangerous. Honestly, it’s crap, and always has been. Only we don’t care, because in its bald-faced sentimentality — far from Annie in many ways, a close cousin in others — it taps into something primal about sex appeal, music, defiance and freedom. Who doesn’t want to be swept off their feet by someone who can swing his hips like a pendulum?
This original musicalized stage production, now at Fair Park, has the film’s camp appeal (say it with me: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” the show’s only cheer line), but is one of the most puzzling concepts I’ve ever seen. Although its score includes most of the songs from the movie soundtrack, it’s not a traditional jukebox musical because so many of the songs are prerecorded tracks … but not all of them. And the actors don’t sing the lyrics to each other … except when they do. And the end, when Baby and Johnny have their big dance together, two other actors step onto the stage’s curtain and perform “The Time of My Life,” as if they represent the inner psyches of the characters. It’s a confusing, even annoying, jumble.
The fact it follows the movie script almost scene by scene reinforces just how different the media of film and theater are; the use of projections to define the scenes has potential, except when it causes the audience to blurt out laughs — and not in the good way. Fans of the movie will probably walk away content that they got what they paid for, but fans of musical theater? Well, we’ll stick with Jersey Boys.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2015.