Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Carried A Watermelon

I know it seems like all I ever do is eat. Well, sometimes, between heaping portions of raw seafood, White Castles and my parents' famous pizza (upon which I will pontificate prodigiously another time) I like to enjoy a little theatah, dahlings.

To wit, last night I went to see Dirty Dancing: The Musical. I know; want some whine with that cheese? Well, it was a freaking blast. It's hard to adapt movies to stage, but between the kick ass set design and the rather simple, dance-heavy plot, this movie was a natural choice. This was yet another trip in the Way Back Machine, and aside from a few minor critiques, I would say it was a fun journey.

Let me start by saying that Amanda Leigh Cobb must have watched DD extensively and may have even had a few sit-downs with Jennifer Gray herself. She had Frances "Baby" Houseman down to a science. Loved her. I bought her act wholesale. Then there was the freakishly hot Britta Lazenga as the Kellerman Resort dance instructor, Penny. Holy shit, I think I turned into a lesbian for a minute. She looks like a less thyroidal and far more beautiful Elizabeth Berkley, and I couldn't keep my damn eyes off of her. She ate every scene she was in, which was probably less about her chops and more about the fact that she was usually acting with the craptastic Josef Brown as Johnny Castle.

Now, when it comes to The Swayze, I have to say whatever role he played, he played it to the hilt. Even if it wasn't a great role or a great movie, you could tell that ol' Patrick owned that shit. See Roadhouse and tell me I'm wrong. Anyway, Josef Brown is freakishly hot and served to temper my Britta Lazenga-induced lesbionic flare-up. But he couldn't hold a candle to The Swayz. Despite reprising the role of Johnny for American audiences after playing it in England and Australia, he seems to be the musical-theater version of Keanu Reeves.

While he gave it his very best effort to Americanize his accent throughout the show, and I give him all sorts of propers for doing a far better job than I would if I had to work an accent of any kind, it seemed the effort of all that Americanizing, dancing and brooding took its toll on his acting abilities. Poor Josef's Australian crept out as the show progressed, which was fine, because he took off his shirt a whole lot, and when he didn't, he was wearing tight clothes anyway, and ...

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. He kind of sucked. I would have been happy to go along with the story that Johnny was visiting from Melbourne or some shit rather than hear his fake Eastern accent disintegrate. But as with Keanu, if the project has any merit of its own, you will suspend your incredulity that someone who can't act keeps getting jobs. Besides, Mr. Brown can dance like The Swayze, so between his hoofing talent and supreme sexiness, all is forgiven.

My only other complaints are that at times the sound got so loud my brain hurt and when the strobe lights were cooking, in conjunction with the sonic overload, I felt dangerously close to seizure. But as for the rest, it was great.

Let's see a show of hands--how many of you have seen Dirty Dancing? Come on, guys, you know you've seen it, too. It's a classic piece of modern American film! Playing with screens and projection, as well as simple and effective staging devices and set design, the story panned out just like the movie, down to a lot of the script. The story actually developed some of the other characters and plot twists in ways that the movie didn't, which was cool, if only necessary to fill in areas that couldn't be translated to the stage.

For instance, Baby's family relationships all seemed to have a bit more dimension. Lisa, the obnoxious sister, played adorably by Katlyn Carlson, and mother Marge Houseman (Kaitlin Hopkins) actually exist as a characters in this version with some funny and touching lines. Penny's character takes on more dimension, too, with her abortion issue going beyond the obvious "dangers of back-alley hack jobs" and touches on some of the social and emotional aspects she experienced. The barely touched upon references to the Freedom Riders in 1963 in the film were developed further on the stage, probably to establish time and place beyond the music and costuming.

I'm sure these bonus side-story developments are a necessary device in adaptations. That being said, I was willing to suspend my disbelief even when some of the maneuvers were transparent even to me, the non-theater-educated schlub sitting in Aisle 3. But we can forget about all that and talk about what really matters.

The music: everything you would expect, pretty much all the standard DD songs, but light on the obnoxious Swayze-sung songs. Phew. There was a priceless moment with an old dude singing Besame Mucho that, even if the whole magilla sucked, he would have made it worthwhile.

The dancing: fucking awesome. I want to dance like that!

The scenery and stage design: amazing. With the use of video, screens and projection, they managed to rock the scene where Baby and Johnny work on lifts in the water without water. It was way cool. They have this divided stage that can rotate, rise, fall, do all kinds to help shift scenes and create spaces. Job well done on that front for sure.

The costuming: I need some more dresses in my life. Why do I shy away from floral prints? And gloves! I want to wear white gloves. And headbands. The clothes were cute. I need to go thrifting, and find me some vintage early '60s clothing, which will dovetail nicely with my recent Mad Men obsession.

The verdict: tons of fun. All of the classic songs and familiar story-line with a few tweaks for good measure. The cast was awesome, and Josef Brown's wooden line delivery can be overlooked with all of the other whistles and bells going on around him.* And by whistles, I mean me, standing on my chair discovering that I actually can whistle through my teeth like a construction worker. And by bells, I mean the angry shouts of, "Down in front, you maniac!"

*One caveat: the security detail at the gorgeous Cadillac Palace Theater is pretty tight. So, watch that whistling.


Anonymous said...

God I hope you didn't bring your hubby to this estrogen induced festival of all things femalic

I swear just reading your blog about it makes me want to tuck my junk, look in the mirror and ask myself if I'm beautiful.

I urge you unless you have a vagina, or really want one bad please don't go and let this dirty dancing thing die....DIE!!

But I gotta say Swayze was the bomb in Roadhouse

Nora said...

Dude, River, may I remind you about the New Kids post? When you have that many women in one place reliving their youth in one way or another, they are ripe for the plucking. You would score major points with a girl if you took her to see that.

I mean, come on; it's musical theater. It's for everyone. While it sounds like a huge vag-fest, well, think about it. Don't you want to be outnumbered? And let me tell you, that Britta Lazenga is reason enough for a guy to see this show.

Having said all that, it's way chicky, yeah. And no, my husband did not come with us. He did, however, get us tickets to see The Million Dollar Quartet tomorrow, which is going to be super-duper-fucking AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

Listen I am a man, I have done some whacky, way out things in the name of love, and trying to lure the female species into my web.

But there must be, nay has to be a line where one must not cross. Dirty Dancing is that line.

Anonymous said...

Lol, it took me a few minutes but I finally got the title. So if this Aussie couldn't keep his accent together, then I'm guessing he butchered She's Like the Wind?

Luke Baggins said...

I too was worried that I might have turned a little bit gay by reading that post and I had to go look at some porn to verify that I still swing the same way I did before. I couldn't stop reading though because, I was just diggin the writing.

I also think Swayze is one of those underrated actors. I loved Point Break, which I thought was a bit underrated as an action flick. Chase scenes are the most overdone thing in moviedom and that flick actually made one that was interesting.

Did you know that he's also a Scientologist? A bit depressing isn't it? On the other hand, Scientology gets made fun of really amusingly in Californication.

I had a similar 80's memory lane trip just now reading this review of Garbage Pail Kids: the Movie:

Mitchell said...

Eh. Call me when they make Next of Kin the musical. That sounds like a cool show right there.

Nora said...

Yes, boys, it takes a man secure in his masculinity to handle Dirty Dancing: The Musical. And just so you know, Mike, She's Like the Wind was performed as an instrumental.

Luke, I agree about Point Break and also about the disappointing news that The Swayz is a Scientologist. Ick.

Mitchell, I think you should adapt Next of Kin for the stage. Make your mark, man.

Anonymous said...

Instrumental, that simply doesn't do it justice. I would've jumped on stage myself and belted out those lyrics in Swayz like fashion if I were there.

I've got my own Way Back Machine thing going down next month when Vanilla Ice comes to town!

Luke Baggins said...

Have you heard any of the duets Ice has done with other bands?

He did "Size Queen" with Betty Blowtorch, which was cool. Betty Blowtorch has better tracks.

But "Boom" that he did with the Bloodhound Gang on their "One fierce Beer Coaster" album was one of the greatest tracks ever.