DIRTY DANCING by Eleanor Bergstein, directed by James Powell (Mirvish). At the Royal Alexandra (260 King West). To June 1. $26-$120. 416-872-1212. Rating: N
Unless you have hungry eyes for a passably entertaining movie delivered word-for-word - and then some - avoid Dirty Dancing. You definitely won't have the Time Of Your Life.
I've quoted the titles of two songs from the 1987 film's bestselling soundtrack for a reason. The music, much of it pre-recorded, is pretty much the only thing to recommend in the show. Royalty fees must have been a bitch.
It's 1963, and the politically aware (we're told, anyway) student Frances "Baby" Houseman (Monica West) is at a Catskills resort with her family, where she meets her macho match in Johnny Castle (Jake Simons), a dance instructor who's brought his pecs and gritty bad-boy attitude from the other side of the tracks.
The movie was bearable because of the chemistry between the two leads and the naive yet endearing story of a girl's sexual and social awakening. Here, the banal dialogue is delivered as if it's from a sacred text - famous lines get shout-outs from the audience - and there's no chemistry between West and Simons.
Worse, the scenes that writer Eleanor Bergstein has added play like deleted bits from the film. A ridiculous subplot about civil rights freedom riders is liberal hand-wringing at its most egregious, and the image of a black girl (hardly seen otherwise) singing We Shall Overcome while a pic of Martin Luther King Jr. is flashed on a screen is so offensive it's almost funny.
A word about that screen. It's used to project everything from flowing wheat fields to a lake. It also opens up, Bat Cave-style, to allow characters to exit scenes. This is lazy theatre, and so are the hydraulic bridges that pop up and down like horses on a merry-go-round.
What's disappointing is that the creators haven't integrated the songs in any novel way. (The singers, including Canadian Idol winner Melissa O'Neil, are likewise wasted.)
And for a show that has the word "dancing" in its title, there's not much of it, dirty or otherwise.