Playwright: Eleanor Bergstein. At: The Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph. Phone: 773-549-1815; $35-$100. Runs through: Jan. 17
Dirty Dancing may be the first Broadway-bound musical that owes as much to IMAX technology as does to actual living, breathing, singing actors. Musicals, by definition, generally contain lots of numbers where the cast sings; not so in the lavish spectacle that is Dirty Dancing. With the exception of a soaring rendition of We Shall Overcome and the 11th-hour showstopper The Time of My Life, the music comes primarily from record players and radios as the plot unfolds to the soundtrack of the summer of 1963.
Music aside, Dirty Dancing is like falling into a three-D jumbo-tron movie. Instead of standard brick-and-mortar sets, we get video backdrops of sweeping forests, torrential rainstorms, winding mountain highways and even a lake where aspiring mamboist Baby and her dirty-dancing mentor/lover Johnny Castle splash, duck and dunk each other while practicing lifts. Jon Driscoll's video is so effective, you can all but smell the pine trees.
Directed by James Powell, Dirty Dancing looks utterly gorgeous. Jennifer Irwin's costumes are Mad Men-authentic and beautiful. In one number, a line of ladies dancing blooms like a riotous bouquet as their skirts flounce and petticoats swish to the music.
As for Kate Champion's choreography, it will take your breath away. A jaw-dropping display of raw athleticism, supple grace and balletic elegance, the choreography is a feast for the eyes that also provides a kinetic, intricate emotional core to what is at heart a fairly superficial coming of age story. When Johnny Castle ( Josef Brown, whose Marlon Brando-in-Australia accent is almost intelligible at times ) and Penny Johnson ( Britta Lazenga, a stunning former Joffrey Ballet dancer whose limber sensuality is simply extraordinary ) perform their mambo, the stage virtually blazes with a current of sexual electricity.
Like its movie predecessor, Dirty Dancing on stage is pure spun sugar—irresistible as cotton candy and ( despite several emphasized, self-conscious references to the nascent civil rights movement ) equally substantive.
Writer/creator Eleanor Bergstein hews closely to the 1987 film she authored. All the iconic lines are here—including ( but of course ) that final, show-stopping bit of business about putting Baby in a corner. It's a show that critics are apt to revile and audiences will render unstoppable. And who am I to say which camp has the more accurate point of view?
The production lags terribly in the second act with dance numbers are separated by what feels like eons of dead space. There's also a bit of lazy writing: Too many plot ends are neatly ( would that real life were so tidy ) wrapped up in bows during the course of a single dance number, troubles erased in the course of a single sentence and a two-step.
But all that can be overlooked if you just focus on the dancing—and on Baby, ( Amanda Leigh Cobb ) , an ingénue that has as much backbone as innocence.