DIRTY DANCING comes to Melbourne

Let’s take a step back for moment: First there was �Grease� the long running Broadway musical. Then came �Grease – The Movie� catapulting John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John to stardom. Then came the revival productions of �Grease� followed by that new world-wide, money-making venture the �Arena� version of �Grease�.

�Arena� versions of anything seem to have great mass-appeal. What started out as the domain of sport became the home of rock music and has been transformed into the entertainment venue of choice for just about everything and anything from musicals to orchestral classical spectaculars and opera. Who would have thought that the glory days of the Coliseum in Rome would return with these new gladiators. The attraction of stadium and arena venues for producers is the ability to run a show for 3-4 nights, get an audience of 9,000 – 14,000 per night into a venue and move to the next town. What an audience too! The masses, the general public, the football, cricket and tennis crowd arriving in droves. Soft drinks, beer and popcorn in hand they just keep coming back for more. Most of these people have probably never seen the inside of Her Majesty’s Theatre or Princess Theatre.

�Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage� would work very nicely in Rod Laver Arena or Madison Square Garden. The set and lighting design is ready made for such a venue. Hydraulic lifts, turntables, scenery projections, pre-recorded music, lots of dancing, very little live singing – all the elements are there.

Jump to today: �Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage� had its Melbourne premiere on Thursday night, 16 June, 2005 at the Princess Theatre. The Princess Theatre has been the home of Les Miserables The Phantom of the Opera Mamma Mia and The Producers.

Whether you like �Dirty Dancing� or not a great miracle has occurred in Melbourne, Australia. It is the birth of the newest form of theatrical entertainment to arrive in heritage theatres around the world, THE STAGE SHOW. Once the home of vaudeville, drama, revue, musical comedy and more recently musical theatre, the landlords of the great theatres of Broadway, London, Melbourne and Sydney are doing what they do best – adapting to the times in order to collect the rent.   This is what makes theatre. This is what shapes theatre.

�Dirty Dancing� is not a musical. It doesn’t pretend to be a musical. Nor does it pretend to be a great piece of dramatic theatre. The origins of the script are a screenplay for a movie that was as simple and romantic as the RKO gems starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Eleanor Bergstein has fulfilled her dream of having her script recreated the way she originally intended before the film studio did its edit. The dialogue and music on stage is virtually word for word what is in the movie plus what was cut out. The background music is exactly that, background music – the pre-recorded tracks sung by The Four Seasons, Marvin Gaye and The Drifters. There is a live band and singers for the hotel scenes, but its all part of the story transferred form screen to stage.

So what do we call such a show (no critical undertones please)? It is none of the categories previously listed nor does it fit into the genre of the latest craze the �jukebox� musical. It is just a STAGE SHOW – clear and simple. It is the extension and development of that form of entertainment that ushered in the transition of audience popularity from stage to screen; the days of the Roxy Theatre and Radio City Musical Hall movie and stage show all for the price of one admission. Which in turn lead to the elimination of the stage show and the introduction of the movie double feature.

�Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage� is as close to watching the movie live as it can ever get. The audiences love it. The scenic projections of cars driving on the parkway in the 60’s, the oversized portions of food, moonlit nights in the Catskills and the sound of Lesley Gore playing in the background. It’s a love story that everyone relates to. Coming of age, young love, parent respect vs parent rebellion, social justice and the nostalgia of that first romantic moment.   The audience waits with anticipation for that magic moment when Johnny returns on his motorcycle to say those magic words, �Nobody puts Baby in a corner!� There is a wave of emotion as the audience cheers and the dancing to (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life begins to the climax of the lift .

This is all Eleanor Bergstein wants from this stage show. To give the audience another chance to cheer, laugh and cry for joy. The producers of the show here in Australia (Kevin Jacobson in association with Lions Gate Films and Magic Hour Productions) have delivered on their agreement and let Ms Bergstein do just that.

For those purists like myself who would like to see more than a stage show or jukebox musical we must console ourselves with the thought that the arena crowd is crossing the river and coming to the theatre and that the theatre owners are happy they have tenants. Hopefully this will preserve the future of these glorious venues until such time as we can see The Light in the Piazza and Wicked arrive on our shores and new Australian works such as the Pratt Prize winners Sideshow Alley and Metro Street can get an opportunity to play a big house audiences as big as Dirty Dancing .

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage
Princess Theatre – Melbourne
From June 16; Wed to Sat, 8pm; Sunday, 6.30pm; Matinees, Wed and Sun, 1pm; Sat, 2pm.

� Henry Sachwald 2005

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