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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The stage musical is a half-hour too long and while I don't need to hear " Nobody puts Baby in a corner!" one more time, it was the audience's major moment, greeted with resounding cheers and applause. And this wasn't even opening night. Other ovation moments came when Johnny strides down the aisle at the end to rescue Baby from that corner and when she finally succeeds in doing the lift that she's practiced all two and a half hours of this extravaganza.
But let's back up a little. If you never saw the movie, what would you think of this tale? Class snobbery may have been stronger in the 1960s when the story is set than it is today, but parents who are ensconced in a certain upper income/status level still want to see their daughters stand on their shoulders. The last thing Dr. Jake Houseman (John Bolger) wants to see is his smartest daughter Frances (Amanda Leigh Cobb) kept down by being perennially called Baby, seduced by a street kid named Johnny Castle (Josef Brown) majoring in talent, drive and sexuality.
Re-imagined for the stage by the original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein (who was the original Baby in real life), this has obviously been expanded to fit stage musical requirements. There's lots more music, a mélange of everything from the 1960s to the 1980s, with much due performance time given to the movie's Oscar-winning tune "I've Had The Time Of My Life."
The singing chops of Ben Mingay, who plays a minor character, give backup singing a whole new dimension. Kate Champion's exciting choreography fits the period and there's a sizzling performance by Britta Lazenga as Penny whose long legs just don't stop. Josef Brown makes a focused, intense Johnny and Amanda Leigh Cobb is a gawkily realistic Baby.
By the nature of the production, the audience focuses on the performers' figures and dancing, without the vulnerable close-ups that gave the movie's stars so much heart. Most of the audience seem able to fill in the blanks and those who can't seem to enjoy themselves anyway.
Credit is due to the video and projection designs of Jon Driscoll, complementing Stephen Brinson Lewis's set design. Driscoll finds images that look as if they really are the Catskills, from hills to mountains to sky. Jennifer Irwin's costume designs bring out the best in Penny and the nice girl on a roll progression of Baby but she has the smarts to leave Johnny Castle in the basic black pants and tank top. Johnny doesn't need creative distractions. And if there are a few too many for you and me, well, we have our memories.