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'Dirty Dancing' lyricist tells how he came to write the song of his life

According to lyricist Franke Previte, ”(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” is just one reason why “Dirty Dancing” is a pop-culture “phenomenon.”

Frank Previte (L) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny) and Jillian Mueller (Baby) in the North American tour of Dirty Dancing. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Frank Previte (L) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny) and Jillian Mueller (Baby) in the North American tour of Dirty Dancing. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)Read more

THINK OF "Dirty Dancing," and it's likely the first thought conjured is of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," the hearts-take-flight duet sung by Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers) and Jennifer Warnes that is the signature tune from the small-budget 1987 flick that today stands as a pop-culture totem of the Reagan administration era.

But the Oscar-and-Grammy-winning song's lyricist is far too modest to claim sole responsibility for the success of the film whose stage version hits the Academy of Music Tuesday for a 13-night, 16-performance run.

"For me, it's more than just the movie and just the song," offered Franke Previte (pronounced PREV-it), during a recent phone call. "It's the [combination] of the movie, the song and [stars] Patrick Swayze and Jennifer [Grey]. You take one of those elements out, I don't think you have the same phenomenon that happened. I think the chemistry was all aligned."

According to Jersey Guy Previte, who fronted the early-'80s band Franke & The Knockouts, the tune's genesis was a phone call he received from music-biz chieftain Jimmy Ienner asking him to submit songs for "a little movie called 'Dirty Dancing.' "

"Mind you," he continued, "I am down to $100 in my bank account. I told him I didn't have time. He said: 'Make time. It'll change your life. I got a great feeling about this movie.' "

It was after that little pep talk that Ienner laid the bad news on Previte. "He said, 'We already turned down 149 songs [by such superstars as] Michael McDonald and Stevie Wonder.' "

Previte, who also penned the words to the movie's other hit song, "Hungry Eyes" (recorded by Eric Carmen), immediately suggested to co-composer John DiNicola (who wrote the music with Donald Markowitz) that the song begin in ballad mode, then speed up to accommodate the dancing. Then came what Previte described as a little divine intervention.

"On my way to the studio to finish recording 'Hungry Eyes' [for a demo tape to pitch record companies], I'm on the Garden State Parkway, exit 140 - I remember it like it was yesterday - sitting there with that cassette [recorder] with a little tape player and a pencil and paper going, 'Neh-ehh-ehhhhhh . . . time of my life.'

"And I'm thinking, 'What am I trying to say? What am I telling myself?' That's how I write. I find the melody first and that melody will give me phonetic sounds, and usually those sounds turn into some part of what the lyric will be.

"So 'Neh-ehh-ehhhhhh time of my life' turned into 'I had the time of my life.' The song was born; the man upstairs wrote that song."

Almost 30 years later, Previte remains grateful for his role in the movie's place in the public's consciousness. And grateful for what the song's royalties have meant to his bank account.

"It is," he said with a chuckle, "the gift that keeps on giving."

2 and 8 p.m. March 28 and April 4;

1 and 6:30 p.m. March 29 and April 5; $20-$120.50, 215-893-1999,

Broadway to Broad Street

No need to wait for today's Kimmel Center organization announcement of its 2015-16 touring musical lineup; We have it right here:

* "Bullets Over Broadway" (Academy of Music, Oct. 27-Nov. 1).

* "Matilda The Musical" (Academy of Music, Nov. 17-29.

* "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Merriam Theater (Dec. 15-20).

* "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (Merriam Theater Dec. 29-Jan. 3,).

* "Pippin" (Academy of Music, Feb. 23-28).

* "Disney's Beauty and The Beast" (Academy of Music Feb. 16-21).

* "The Sound of Music" (Academy of Music, March 15-20).

* "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" (Academy of Music, March 22-April 3).

* "Riverdance-The 20th Anniversary World Tour" (Merriam Theater June 14-19,).

* "If/Then" (Academy of Music, June 21-26).

Also, we are sorry to report the singularly boring and unfunny "Book of Mormon" is returning to the Forrest Theatre Nov. 24-Dec. 27--now there's a real holiday treat!

'Annie' still a winner

We didn't have to attend a performance of "Annie" at the Academy of Music to recommend you go see it. Between Thomas Meehan's witty (if silly and implausible) book and a score full of Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin songs (real, actual songs, not just sung dialogue!) that define the word "tuneful," "Annie" ranks as one of Broadway's greatest musicals.

So the only question is: How does the cast fare?

Everyone - kids and adults - are just dandy, starting with the interestingly-named Issie Swickle, who shines as the Depression-era orphan who melts the heart of billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Gilgamesh Taggett is likewise appealing as Warbucks, all bluster and swagger outside and all marshmallow inside, while Lynn Andrews wrings every last drop of comedy out of her role as orphanage despot Miss Hannigan.

Kudos also to Garrett Deagon, who serves up a perfectly malevolent (and loose-limbed) Rooster Hannigan, the piece's villain.

Don't miss it!