(This review is by American-Statesman freelance critic Cate Blouke.)
Comeback tours are normally the purview of fading musicians, but the more than twenty-five years since “Dirty Dancing” hit the big screen has left the story ripe for re-visiting. Playing through this Nov. 16, Broadway Across America brings the classic story to the Bass Concert Hall stage, and it’s just as sexy as ever, even if it’s a bit silly, too (because, after all, it was the ‘80s).
Devoted fans will be pleased to know the show takes great pains to stay true to the original in all the particulars: dialogue, choreography, and even setting. This occasionally results in speeding through some plot points that don’t make much sense to unfamiliar viewers, but let’s be honest, there aren’t likely to be many of those in the crowd.
Most musicals are driven by the songs or the plot, but this one puts dancing at the forefront. And dancing is always better live, no matter how much we loved Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze back in the day.
Jillian Mueller (Frances “Baby” Houseman) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny Castle) step into that legacy with grace and plenty of sex appeal. When Pergande pulls Mueller close for the couple’s first round of hip grinding gyration, we get a glimpse of what it might have been like to see Elvis swing his hips for the first time – with all the ensuing audience titillation.
In his role of the rough and troubled dance instructor, Pergande is just as sexy as we could have hoped. And the seduction scene that comes at the end of act one is one of the spiciest moments Bass Concert Hall has probably ever witnessed.
Mueller deserves particular praise for the control with which the obviously skilled dancer restrains herself – making us believe she’s learning to dance before our eyes.
But the romantic leads aren’t the only ones that make this show delightful – Jenny Winton is breathtaking as Penny Johnson, Johnny’s original dance partner. The early numbers showcase Winton’s ballet training right along with her miles of leg.
The few times the show provides vocal accompaniment leave us eager for more. Jennlee Shallow (Elizabeth/Singer) commands attention both with her elegant stage presence and voluptuous singing voice. Jerome Harmann-Hardeman is also delightful as the band-leader Tito-Suarez, especially when he shakes his stuff early in the show.
Thankfully, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, so you don’t have to feel guilty if you come down with a case of the giggles mid-way through.
“Dirty Dancing” continues through Nov. 16 at Bass Concert Hall. www.texasperformingarts.org.