Turning a movie into a musical is a dicey proposition, as is the inverse. People get very attached to “their” version of the show, and you want to please them while creating your new vision of the material. Sometimes this is done successfully (I’m of the opinion that Chicago did this well in the movie, and that Hairspray’s stage show is also fantastic). Other times this is not the case-I hated the movie version of Les Miserables that was just in the theaters, and I hated the stage musical of Dirty Dancing that I saw on Sunday.
The reason that Dirty Dancing fails is that it doesn’t try-at all. It is, with very few minor changes, a word for word copy of the movie.
The music is the same-This Magic Moment, Do You Love Me, Hey Baby, You Don’t Own Me, etc. Most of it isn’t even sung by the cast-it’s audio of the original artists (and while I love those songs and those artists, I’m not really enamored of paying to see musical theater only to hear canned music). Several numbers are sung by the cast, but again, it’s not original music. I don’t personally know if I’d call it “the musical” as there isn’t original music.
When the movie has a scene change, the stage musical has one too. The problem is that while scene changes work in a movie, they play out clunkily on stage.
Compare this with Hairspray, the Musical-it has the same story at heart as the movie. However, some characters are moved around or don’t appear in the stage show and some plot points are changed to keep the story flowing (for example there’s no amusement park-rather Amber’s mom is the producer of the Corny Collins Show, keeping the focus at the tv show, instead of tangenting off). The music is original and clever, but again, furthers the plot. Like the music of Dirty Dancing, it’s meant to sound period specific, but rather than pull music from the radio, the music is original.
The acting is fine, although there were no standout performances (as compared to Suzie Mathers-Glinda from the touring cast of Wicked in the 2011/2012 season-who was hands down the best I’ve seen in the role since Kristin Chenoweth–review is here).
My final conclusion? Just watch your dvd of Dirty Dancing. You’ll be much happier seeing the original for a fraction of the cost of this thin imitation. Save your theater money for the upcoming production of Phantom of the Opera (get your tickets now)
On the plus side, they allowed children to come to the show. I had a spare ticket, and I decided to use it to bring Elanor, who did wonderfully. Which means the next time a kid friendly show comes through (Annie was here last year, Lion King the year before) I know she’s ready to see a “big” show.