Musical Dirty Dancing Heads to Europe Before Reaching Broadway

News   Musical Dirty Dancing Heads to Europe Before Reaching Broadway Nobody puts Baby in a corner."
Johnny and Baby: Davis Robertson and Laura Breckenridge.
Johnny and Baby: Davis Robertson and Laura Breckenridge.

Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

The famous line uttered on screen by Johnny Castle about Frances "Baby" Houseman will soon be heard live as the theatrical adaptation of "Dirty Dancing" will hit the stage in Europe prior to reaching Broadway.

The adaptation — using the provisional title of The Baby and Johnny Project due to a rights issue — enjoyed an eight-week workshop by Dodger Theatricals last August under the direction of The Donkey Show duo of Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner. Paulus told Playbill On Line, "we're waiting for our greenlight to take the show to Europe, which is the plan: To launch it in Europe and then bring it back through various channels to Broadway. Amsterdam is the place that's being discussed, but there's no official news on that."

Amsterdam has, strangely enough, became an effective testing ground for Broadway musical in the last couple years. The current 42nd Street began in the Netherlands city, as did Cy Coleman's Grace, which is possibly bound for Broadway.

The stage adaptation was written by the screenplay writer Eleanor Bergstein, who according to Paulus "is the life, soul and blood of Dirty Dancing" and was with the directorial couple "every breathing moment" of the workshop at John Jay College. "The whole idea of the adaptation for Dirty Dancing is that it's not a break-into-song Broadway musical," Paulus stated about the presentational style of the work. Bergstein told Playbill On-Line 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. She explained, "Though nothing has changed, what I have done is added a lot about the characters. 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.'"

Explaining her thoughts on how the piece's popularity played a factor in adapting, she said "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 hard part is 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."

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The cast of the workshop was a mix of Broadway performers and dancers. Laura Breckenridge, who recently 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 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 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, Sean Palmer, Noah Racey, Elan Rivera, Jennifer Savelli, Shayna Steele, Lauren Ullrich and William Ullrich.

Choreography duties were handed to David Parsons from The Parsons Dance Company. Lighting design was handled by Brian McDevitt (East is East, God's Heart). Scenic designer Robert Brill (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Design For Living, 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.'" 15 years later, she's still proving them wrong.

— by Ernio Hernandez