“Dirty Dancing” at the Orpheum Theatre: Maybe some movies should just remain movies

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Once, The Lion King, Sister Act, Bring it On, Shrek…what do these movies have in common? All of them were turned into musicals. Some are fantastic adaptations that appeal to both the general musical theatre crowd and fans of the movie, but some only appeal to one of the two. Speaking as a dedicated musical theatre fan, I have to say that turning Dirty Dancing into a musical was a great idea, but the adaptation didn’t translate very well onto the stage.

Dirty Dancing was a very popular 1987 movie telling the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman, who falls in love with a dance instructor while at a summer holiday camp with her family. The show runs through October 19th at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

I have to admit, I fell in love with one major aspect of the show, and that’s the music. The orchestra, situated on top of the set as if they were the in-house band for the resort where the musical takes place, was incredible. Even the musical interludes and background music when nobody was singing was so enticing and exciting. It’s the first musical I’ve seen that contained a lot of mambo, bossa-nova, and latin jazz (which as a jazz drummer made me really happy). Another aspect of the show that was interesting was the use of video projection for every scene. Surprisingly, I was pretty okay with a lot of the video projections. I completely understand that in a musical that changes scenes so often, video projections are the easiest way to transition from scene to scene. However, there were a couple of video projections throughout the show that were distracting because they contained too much movement. Despite those few distracting projections, I thought it was a very efficient and creative way to move the story’s plot along.

I don’t know how difficult it is to translate a movie into a fully staged musical, but I can’t imagine it being the easiest of jobs. That said, I think if the creative team for this musical had spent just a little more time on the script adaptation and character development, I would have enjoyed it more. I found the dialogue and actions to be quite inauthentic and cheesy. Because of this, I felt it difficult to conclude whether or not the performers were great actors. Through the intense and beautiful choreography and music, I was able to conclude that they were very talented singers and dancers, but the dialogue made their true acting ability unclear to me. I feel like if the creative team could go back and clean up the dialogue and scene transitions, it would make it more enjoyable for those of us who focus on those sorts of things in shows.

Now, it’s no surprise that this musical has been successful, especially with those who grew up with the movie and its music. But as for those of us who went to see the show not out of nostalgia, but for the purpose of seeing good theatre, Dirty Dancing isn’t a favorite. It’s clearly more aimed toward the movie-goer/general public demographic as opposed to the true theatre crowd.