Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Time Of My Life? Not So Much...

As good fortune would have it, my work occasionally gives me the chance to cross the pond and spend time in one of my favorite places in the world - Great Britain. My office is about an hour from London, so when I am there I make every effort I can to see something that I would not have the opportunity to see on Broadway.

When I was here a year ago, it was right around the time that Dirty Dancing had just raked in its £12M pre-sale for the London run of the Australian hit. I have to admit, I was curious. I loved the movie. In fact, I saw it 7 times in the theatre and even got to the 1988 video release party at the Palladium in Manhattan. So I took the bait. One of the great things about travelling alone is that you have a higher likelihood of getting a ticket to sold-out shows. And I got one...

Upon arrival at the Aldwych Theatre, the first thing I noticed was the female to male ratio was about 30:1, if not higher. I would expect this - it is dancing after all. And no matter how dirty that dancing is, watching football at the pub 'round the corner almost always trumps musical theatre. At least for the gents.

Now there is no shortage of film-based musicals on stage - 9 on Broadway and 6 in London. Original ideas are the anomaly in the theatre world, a fact I've come to accept. I've seen several of these "formerly-known-as-a-film" productions and have even enjoyed some of them. But Dirty Dancing doesn't leverage the film, it practically rapes it. Virtually every scene is blocked as a frame-by-frame replication of the 1987 film and seldom does the book stray from the screenplay. Utilizing a revolving stage, a cyc, gobos and video effects, the technical designers did their utmost to keep up with the constant change of scene. The scene where Baby is learning "the lift" in the lake is as close to a mash-up as I've seen in live theatre, with just the right combination of video, smoke, sound and light.

Now Dirty Dancing is being billed as a musical. I find great humor in the fact that there is an original cast recording available for purchase. There were only a few numbers that were, in fact, sung by the cast. The soundtrack is just that - a soundtrack. During the campfire scene, one of the few original moments in the play, "We Shall Overcome" is beautifully performed. However, furthering Neil's more serious freedom ride storyline seems forced in a jukebox-style musical. When the cast did sing, they did it well. Chris Holland's falsettoed performance of "In The Still of the Night" was lovely and performances of the 80s music were fun, albeit out of place.

But this is a show about the dancing, isn't it? As such, that is the area where I had set fairly high expectations. I had read a few reviews before seeing the show and raves for Kate Champion's choreography were a common theme throughout. Of course, I wonder how Kenny Ortega feels about that, since she managed to lift virtually every single dance move that he created for the film. I guess he's too busy basking in his High School Musical glory to care. And it is the dancing that carries the show.

That and Josef Brown's six-pack abs.

From their reaction, you would have thought that English women never saw a physically fit man in their lives. There were several moments when the screams and whistles were so loud that you couldn't hear the dialogue. Mind you, this was not a total tragedy because the acting was REALLY BAD. I don't know if it was because the actors were focusing too hard on their American accents or if the bad acting was meant to be an homage to the mediocre acting in the film. Again, it is a dancing show, so I can forgiving.

And there was that six-pack. Or was it an eight-pack?

At the top of Act 2, when Johnny gets dressed, people were actually moaning with disappointment. I told the woman seated next to me that I felt badly for the actors, since somewhere between "Cry To Me" and "Love Is Strange" the show seemed to cross over into the realm of exploitation and soft porn.

So, do I have anything positive to say? Sure I do. When Johnny comes back to Kellermans at the end of the show and boldly states that "nobody puts Baby in the corner," you can't help but cheer. And you're still thrilled when Baby does the lift, even though you know it's coming. But do you need to spend £35+ for the live action version of the DVD?

I think you know my answer.

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