Remember Baby's thrilling run and Johnny's spectacular lift at the end of the 1987 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, as the sexy electricity has been replaced with 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 Grossinger's, a Catskills 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 intro, John F. Kennedy was still alive, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 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 patrons 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 learns to dance under his tutelage.
Baby's father (the embarrassingly amateurish but handsome Mark Elliot Wilson) is a physician who 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 (oh, those halter sundresses with lots of crinoline) and the clever effects created by the projections (designed by Jon Driscoll) which change the scene from golf course to poolside to a downpour to a dining room. The band and vocalists are on a raised platform and provide the music as though they were not live people but an invisible movie sound track.
Of course, there are the songs everybody came for: "In the Still of the Night" and "Do You Love Me," and, of course, "I Had the Time of My Life."
Well, my friend had a great time.
Through April 5 at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets. Tickets: $20-$115.50 215-731-3333 or kimmelcenter.org/broadwayEndText