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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Theatre review: Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage wholly taps into its movie roots

The thing about Dirty Dancing, currently on stage at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, is that it makes no excuses for what it is.

When Dirty Dancing originally appeared on the silver screen it managed to tap into two generations: those who grew up in the 60s and remember their glory days (the play takes place during the summer of 1963), and those from the 80s who were swept away by its sexy, albeit sometimes cheesy, a love story (the film was released in 1987).

Based on the demographic at the QE last night, it appears this stage adaptation has managed to tap into those two generations again, with perhaps the added bonus of an even younger generation brought in by parents who want to share that experience with their children.

More than a simple homage to the film starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, this stage adaptation is intended to feel like a reproduction of that movie. From its look-alike central characters to the cinematic quality of its set, Dirty Dancing is designed from front to back to appeal to fans of the film. Even its tagline “the classic story on stage” makes no bones about what it is setting out to achieve. It not only delivers on this premise, but it also does a pretty decent job of it. Of course, none of this should really be a surprise given both film and stage versions were written by the same person.

As a result, going in with the appropriate expectations is paramount to your enjoyment of Dirty Dancing. This is not a ground-breaking theatrical reinvention, and while it has plenty of great music, it also isn’t musical theatre. Based on the opening night crowd though, none of that seems to matter. They came for the nostalgia and the fantasy, and Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage provides.

To underscore even further how much this stage version is looking to cash in on its famous movie cousin — quite literally it seems with top tickets going for $125 each at Ticketmaster and some resellers are now asking upwards of $195 — one only has to look as far as the show’s two stars.

From a distance, Gillian Abbott (Baby) and Christopher Tierney (Johnny) are designed to look like Grey and Swayze. Abbott’s curly locks are courtesy of a wig and Tierney’s 80s haircut and stature is almost a dead ringer for Swayze. Tierney even manages Swayze’s twang from the movie and, like Swayze, does not disappoint when he takes off his shirt. But while the two are designed to be facsimiles of their larger-than-life movie counterparts, ultimately both Abbott and Tierney are believable, and the heat definitely does get turned up when they are dancing together.

Speaking of dancing, along with a memorable soundtrack, this is where Dirty Dancing really shines. Along with Abbott and Tierney, the dance ensemble is top-notch and easily tackles Michelle Lynch’s choreography. With a string of recognizable tunes from the film, plus a few additions that Bergstein was unable to use in the movie, the music is impressive, especially when it is sung by Adrienne Walker and Doug Carpenter. Walker is particularly good here, but Carpenter has an indescribable quality to his voice that is oddly compelling.

To paraphrase a review of the movie that holds true for this stage version: it is easy to be cynical about the whole affair, but Dirty Dancing knows what it aspires to. You may not have the time of your life, but fans of the movie will definitely be entertained.

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage by Eleanor Bergstein. An Amber Jacobsen, Networks Presentations LLC, Grove Entertainment and Col Joye production in association with Lionsgate and Magic Hour Productions. On stage at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre until January 17. Visit for tickets and information.

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