‘Dirty Dancing’ leaps into the Peace Center
Paul Hyde, [email protected] 10:51 a.m. EDT September 23, 2015
Why does the 1987 blockbuster “Dirty Dancing” continue to thrill generations of fans?
Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the now-classic film about love and racy dance moves, has an answer: “Everybody has a secret dancer inside.”
Eleven years ago, Bergstein decided that “Dirty Dancing” fans wanted more — a live theatrical version of the film.
“Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage” arrives at Greenville’s Peace Center Tuesday for eight performances through Sunday.
“This is really its natural form — live theater,” Bergstein said.
The stage show, which closely follows the storyline of the movie, is an even more immersive experience than the film, Bergstein said.
“It took me about 25 years to figure out why many people watched the movie over and over and over,” Bergstein said, speaking by phone from her office overlooking New York’s Central Park.
“I began to think that what they really wanted was to share more intensely in the event, to step through the screen and be there while the story was happening,” she said. “And if that was true, then its natural form was the theater.”
Bergstein said the musical includes more scenes, more songs and more dancing.
The stage show also spotlights many of the chartbusters that were featured in the film: “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and the finale “(I’ve Had) The Time of My life.”
Bergstein turned the idea of the traditional musical on its head. Instead of writing an original score, she selected songs that already existed — “from my old 45s,” she said — and then wrote the book of the show.
“I chose the music first and wrote the story against the music,” Bergstein said. “People ask me why I didn’t want an original score. Well, I had the best music of the decade. The music is so wonderful. I grew up on that music and danced to that music.”
The story takes place in the summer of 1963. The 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman is on vacation in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents. Mesmerized by the steamy dance moves and pounding rhythms she discovers in the resort’s staff quarters, Baby can’t wait to be a part of the scene.
Then she catches sight of Johnny Castle, the resort’s sexy dance instructor. Passions ignite as Baby becomes Johnny’s leading lady, onstage and off.
The musical includes now-legendary lines from the film, such as “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” spoken by Johnny when he finally stands up to Baby’s disapproving father.
But the phrase that really sums up the film, in Bergstein’s view, is spoken by Baby: “Most of all I’m afraid of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”
“It’s the most important line,” Bergstein said. “I think everybody has a moment when they make that choice toward life or away from it.”
Beneath the romantic story, however, there’s serious intent, Bergstein said.
She wrote the film and the musical as a way to reconnect with the idealism of the early 1960s — before the height of the Vietnam War, urban unrest and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Bergstein’s smart and determined heroine, Baby, stands up for herself and believes she can change the world.
“It was the summer of 1963 when you felt like you could reach out your hand and make the world better,” Bergstein said. “It was the summer that Martin Luther King made his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. It was about an America that wanted to do good in the world.”
But the film also is passingly critical of the times, touching on racial and class discord and unpopular wars. The plot also hinges on an illegal abortion in a pre-Roe v. Wade America.
Those issues remain relevant today, Bergstein said.
“Now, to my horror, Roe v. Wade is again under attack and young men are being sent off to a war they don’t want to fight,” Bergstein said. “It’s heartbreaking to think all of these things haven’t been solved.”
An international hit
The stage version of “Dirty Dancing” first opened in 2004 in Australia. It was a tremendous commercial success, selling more than 200,000 tickets during its six-month run. Sold-out runs in Germany and London’s West End followed.
“Dirty Dancing” enjoyed the highest pre-sell in London history, earning $12 million.
The tour coming to Greenville, which opens the Peace Center’s 2015-16 Broadway Series, launched in September 2014 and has been going strong ever since.
The success of “Dirty Dancing” on stage mirrors that of the film, which confounded all expectations.
Bergstein wrote the story before 1984 and shopped the script around to studios for years but was repeatedly rejected until she brought it to Vestron Pictures, which agreed to make the film for a mere $5 million.
The film of “Dirty Dancing,” despite mixed reviews, caught fire, grossing an astounding $214 million.
It became the first movie ever to sell a million copies on video and won several Golden Globes. It made stars out of the leads, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.
The “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack was released in album form and was an instant No 1. It featured Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ duet “(I've Had) the Time of My Life,” which won an Academy Award for best original song in 1987 and became a karaoke classic.
For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
YOU CAN GO
What: “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage,” written by Elenaor Bergstein
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Peace Center Concert Hall
Tickets: $25 to $85
Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org