Like “Dancing with the Stars,” there’s not a lot of plot to the stage version of “Dirty Dancing” but there are a lot of good moves.
To paraphrase “A Chorus Line,” it’s Dance: 10; Book: 3.
Hung together on an outline of the film, the production (which opened Sunday at the Orpheum Theatre and continues through Monday) tells the coming-of-age story of Baby Houseman (Kaleigh Courts), a doctor’s innocent daughter who injects herself into the world of the entertainers at Kellerman’s Resort, circa 1963.
While writer Eleanor Bergstein tries to provide a little relevance (there’s a brief bit about Martin Luther King and his “I Have a Dream” speech), it doesn’t really resonate. The show is so Spartan it’s hard to get beyond the boy-meets-girl concept.
The boy, in this case, is the smoldering Johnny Castle (Aaron Patrick Craven), the resort’s lead dancer who looks a bit like Elvis and, in Craven’s hands, acts like Ryan Gosling.
The two meet when Baby happens upon the steamy dancers’ lives. When she learns Johnny’s partner, Penny (Anais Blake, who moves like a dream), is pregnant and considering an abortion, she springs into action, gets the money and volunteers to fill in at a nearby gig.
The plotting is so sketchy it’s hard to embrace the journey. Still, the dancing, re-created by Michele Lynch, is so fun to watch it almost makes the story incidental.
Even though they’re not channeling Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, Courts is effective as the clumsy Baby; Craven is fluid (and more muscular than you could imagine) as Johnny. When they’re practicing the lifts and moves, the two are as charming as they need to be. But when they’re thrust into Penny’s drama, this “Dirty Dancing” misses more than a step or two.
Thankfully, director Sarna Lapine has built this to move, even when its plot doesn’t. She has one dance morph into another; one scene slide out of another. The set is fairly bare and the songs are entrusted to a couple of very good singers. But the dances? They’re first-rate, executed by an ensemble that knows how to make the most of a scant piece of real estate.
While Baby’s family barely registers (they get lines that get her into scenes; they don’t have plotlines of their own), Owen Russell earns every laugh he’s handed as the Kellerman who doesn’t pay the mortgage. He does his own bit of not-so-dirty dancing that’s quite funny and offers up Catskills humor that helps those props and costumes suggest the era.
Lapine has stuffed her show with plenty of songs from the 1960s (nearly four dozen) and given most of them to Erica Philpot and Raymond Thomas. They act as a Greek chorus of sorts, helping move this in and out like a dessert cart.
While she might have been wise to trade some for more plot, the touring production of “Dirty Dancing” gives fans of the film a Cliffs Notes rendition of the story.
It doesn’t rate as the time of our lives, but it has that momentous lift, a lot of good moves and a reason or two to put Baby in the corner.
For some that might just be enough.