By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Remember Baby's thrilling run and Johnny's spectacular lift at the end of the movie, Dirty Dancing? Well, onstage, in this national touring production at the Academy of Music, there's no run and not much thrill. It's more like dusty dancing than dirty dancing, since the sexy electricity has been replaced by nostalgia.
Eleanor Bergstein, screenwriter for the film, wrote the book for this musical which is faithful to the original (according to my companion for the evening, a fan of the movie, who knows all the songs and most of the lines and who met her first husband back in the day at Grossingers, a Catskill resort much like the Kellerman's of the show). But the show is like a replica, an artifact rather than the real deal. It's slow and for much of the time we seem to be watching something more like the annual guests' talent show than a Broadway production.
If anybody doesn't know the story, it follows Baby (Gillian Abbott) and her family during their summer vacation in 1963, at that liminal moment when, as she tells us in the show's intro, John F. Kennedy was still alive, Martin Luther King still had his dream, the Beatles had not yet arrived, and "everybody called me Baby and it never occurred to me to mind." Kellerman's is a world of rich Jews and hired help; among the entertainers are two dancers, Johnny (Samuel Pergande) and Penny (Jenny Winton). Baby and Johnny get together as she discovers her pelvis and she learns to dance under his tutelage.
Baby's father (the embarrassingly amateurish but handsome Mark Elliot Wilson) is a physician and comes to the rescue when Penny's abortion goes wrong. Among the many minor characters, Jennlee Shallow and Doug Carpenter deliver some great vocals. On the other hand, we watch Baby's sister (Emily Rice) sing an interminable hula song and watch Herman Petras perform a ridiculous "Besame Mucho."
Outstanding are the costumes (I really want one of those halter sundresses with lots of crinolines) and the clever effects created by the projections (designed by Jon Driscoll) which change the scene from golf course to poolside, to downpour to dining room. The band and vocalists are on a raised platform and provide the music as if they were not live people but an invisible movie soundtrack.
Of course, there are the songs everybody came for: "I Had the Time of My Life" and "In the Still of the Night" and "Do You Love Me." My friend had a great time.