Director and Star Set for Upcoming Dirty Dancing Musical Debut in Sydney

News   Director and Star Set for Upcoming Dirty Dancing Musical Debut in Sydney Mark Wing-Davey (Small Tragedy, Henry V) is set to direct the upcoming musical staging of Dirty Dancing which will make its debut in Sydney, Australia, Playbill On-Line has learned.

The stage adaptation, presented by Jacobsen Entertainment and Jack Utsick, is written by the screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein. The expected launch is October-early November at the Theatre Royal.

Josef Brown of the Sydney Dance Company and performer in the 2002 Aussie staging of Man of La Mancha will star in the lead role of Johnny Castle — a part made famous by Patrick Swayze. Actress Kym Valentine of the Australian series "Neighbours" is expected to play opposite as Frances "Baby" Houseman (the Jennifer Grey film role).

Wing-Davey, who is set to direct the upcoming London production of Bat Boy, recently staged Craig Lucas' new play Small Tragedy Off-Broadway and Henry V in Central Park. He is also known for his work on Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest.

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The adaptation — which once used the provisional title of The Baby and Johnny Project (then later Time of My Life) due to a rights issue — enjoyed an eight week workshop by Dodger Theatricals in August 2001 under the direction of The Donkey Show duo of Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner. Writer Bergstein, who according to Paulus "is the life, soul and blood of Dirty Dancing," was with the directorial couple "every breathing moment" of the workshop at John Jay College.

Bergstein told Playbill On-Line (March 2002) that "My biggest desire was to have people feel that they were at Kellerman's [the Catskills summer resort setting of the story]. Since the Catskills in those years were a time when everybody was performing and there were talent shows and everybody danced all the time, it was perfectly organic. But no, Baby never turns to Johnny and sings 'Be My Baby.' If we ever did that the audience would give a collective groan and wander out.

"What we did do was, I think because I wanted to have a little more live stuff, put in things like talent shows. We have Mr. Schumacher singing 'Besame Mucho.' We have a love duet — because everyone was always singing around the piano — so Baby's parents are singing to each other around the piano. I could find more opportunities in an organic way for people to sing along live with music as people do [in real life]: the way you breathe in someone's ear on the dance floor when there's a song that you know."

The 1987 film has become something of a cult classic around the world. Bergstein's awareness of the show's magnitude is apparent when asked about alterations to the script. "Though nothing has changed, what I have done is added a lot about the characters," she explained. "I tried in a few cases to change a line, but it has become like this sacred text, so the actors would say 'No! No! Eleanor, that's not the line.'"

"We have an audience who not only knows every line by heart, but people — I know from my mail, which continues — who have an intensely personal way into it. Whether the way in is as a parent, or as a young girl who thinks it'll happen to her, [or the] enormous male identification with Johnny." The difficult part in adapting was to "never make anybody in that audience feel that the thing that had attached them so very particularly and personally to [the story] wasn't there."

The musical will contain most of the period songs from the movie including many songs that were left out of the film for time and a few new songs from John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz and Franke Previte — the songwriters of the signature song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." The production will also feature added Latin songs — as played by Kellerman's house band led by Tito Suarez — during scene changes.

Among the songs included used in the workshop were "Be My Baby," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Penny's Merengue," "There Will Never Be Another You," "Fox Trot," "Johnny's Mambo," "Do You Love Me," "Love Man," "Infectious Latin Cha Cha," "Original Waltz," "This Land Is Your Land," "Union Song," "We Shall Overcome," "Stubborn Kinda Fellow," "De Todo Un Poco," "Wipe Out," "Hungry Eyes," "Hey Baby," "Nocturnando," "Rico Vacilon," "Besame Mucho," "There's a Long, Long Trail," "Some Kind of Wonderful," "These Arms of Mine," "Cry to Me," "Hello Stranger," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "If You Were the Only Girl in the World," "Walk Like A Man," "El Cha Cha Cha," "Love is Strange," "Nunca," "You Don't Own Me," "Hula Song," "Yes!," "In the Still of the Night," "She's Like the Wind," "Kellerman's Anthem," "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," "Only Love," "Hoyoa Scoa," "El Alargos," "Autumn Concerto," "Saudade de un Amor," "Cha Cha Rando" and "Arcana."

The cast of the workshop was a mix of Broadway performers and dancers. Laura Breckenridge, who made her Broadway debut in The Crucible played the lead role of Baby. The male lead was taken on by Joffrey Ballet dancer Davis Robertson. Michael Rupert (Falsettos, Sweet Charity) and Kaitlin Hopkins (Bat Boy - The Musical) played the Houseman parents Jake and Marjorie. Erin Leigh Peck (Dance of the Vampires) played the older Houseman daughter Lisa. Shannon Lewis (Fosse, Contact) played Johnny's dancing partner Penny Johnson. Richard Davidson (Ghetto) played the resort owner Max Kellerman while his grandson Neil was played by Noah Weisberg. Other performers included Roger Robinson (Seven Guitars) as bandleader Tito Suarez, Christian Borle (Prodigal) as Johnny's cousin Billy Kostecki, Aaron Lazar as waiter Robbie Gould, Lynn Cohen (Ivanov) and Bernie Passeltiner (Cafe Crown) as Mrs. and Mr Schumacher, Kim Morgan Green (Fosse) and Michael Kubala (Chicago) as Vivian and Moe Pressman, and Jordan Gelber (Avenue Q) as Stan.

The ensemble included Enrique Brown, Christy Candler, Kelly Crandall, Rhett George, Justin Greer, Ashley Amber Haase, Dameka Hayes, Donald Roman Lopez, Matthew Morrison (Hairspray), Sean Palmer, Noah Racey (Never Gonna Dance), Elan Rivera, Jennifer Savelli, Shayna Steele, Lauren Ullrich and William Ullrich (Nine).

Choreography duties were handed to David Parsons from The Parsons Dance Company. Lighting design was handled by Brian McDevitt (Nine, Into The Woods). Scenic designer Robert Brill (Assassins, Cabaret) created sets.

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In 1987, the film version of "Dirty Dancing" starring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and Jerry Orbach was a box-office hit, surprising many. Bergstein told Playbill On-Line (March 2000) "They told me, 'Be happy you've written something that will only be seen by kids...and will be quickly forgotten.'"