Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Dazzling Dirty Dancing

You'll be moving your mambo from start to finish. 

Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
We all need eye candy, right?

For fans of sci-fi, there's Star Trek; for those who prefer a side of violence with their story, it's Spartacus or Game of Thrones; and for musical and arts and general groupies of true hunks everywhere, it's Dirty Dancing.

For the uninitiated, Dirty Dancing follows the 1963-set summer camp love story of Baby, the privileged daughter of a doctor, and Johnny, a hunky (not to overemphasize, but HUNKY) dance instructor. Baby accidentally learns that Johnny's dance partner is pregnant, and not only helps her pay for an abortion but volunteers to learn her routine to allow her time to recover. Over the next two weeks, Baby and Johnny work in close enough quarters to succeed with the dance and to fall in love.

There are more details I could share, but let's be honest: this show is written for a *certain kind* of audience, and they come for one scene and one scene only: the famous "lift" at the end of the show in Baby and Johnny's dance routine. All I'll say is that they certainly deliver; the audience went wild.

Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
Dirty Dancing isn't a traditional musical in the sense that each character sings, and I found that disappointing as the cast has great voices. This is particularly true of Jennlee Shallow (Elizabeth) and Doug Carpenter (Billy Kostecki)[both pictured, left], who provide vocals for the show's most famous tracks, including "(I've Had the) Time of My Life." Their fab vocal chemistry adds an extra level of excitement to Dirty Dancing's universally superb dance sequences, and I craved a lot more of it.

The leads Jillian Mueller (Baby) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny) have even better chemistry and fit their parts well; Mueller is winning and winsome as idealistic Baby, and Pergande positively oozes the Patrick Swayze-an sex appeal that Johnny's character exudes from every pore. (And as a side note, ladies/gents who are so inclined: the supporting cast isn't half bad to look at either).
Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust

On a heavier note, I have to say: Dirty Dancing was never one of my favorite movies, but this show hits just the right note between silly, romantic, and serious. I'd honestly forgotten the story's more serious subplot (regarding abortion, birth control, and who takes responsibility in relationships), and as I'm learning with other shows in revival, these old themes die hard; we live in a world where a fight over abortion's legality and desirability is constantly in question, and I found it refreshing to see that rather than indicting one perspective or another, Dirty Dancing chooses to portray a relatively honest depiction of what happens when the option isn't legally available at all. It's a perspective that is too often buried and/or forgotten, and bravo to this cast for giving the subject the delicate but serious treatment it deserves.

Dirty Dancing is great eye candy and perfect for a girls' night out getaway, even for those who think they won't enjoy it - I didn't. Catch it while you still can by clicking on this link for tickets and more information about the show.

Also, for those who are interested: I couldn't upload the video I had due to size constraints on Blogger (dumb), but the audio still works - so check it out if you're interested:

Reviewed in Brief: Eating Raoul

How far would you go to fulfill a dream? 

Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
That's the question Mary and Paul Bland are faced with in Eating Raoul, a musical that just debuted at New Century Theater. Faced with surmounting debt and depleting income, Mary and Paul are about to give up on their dream of owning a restaurant until Paul accidentally kills a man who attempts to sexually assault Mary in their home. When they discover his pockets are filled with cash, they realize that they can make a lot more money off of "bopping" the ever revolving door of swingers next door than they ever could the honest way.

Their plans are almost foiled when they are discovered by a suspicious but sexy charmer named Raoul, who makes it his mission to help the Blands - while also seducing Mary and skimming an extra profit for himself, of course. When Paul finds out Raoul intends to kill him, he takes matters into his own hands, and the Blands fulfill their dream.

Eating Raoul is admittedly a strange show, and while the description sounds serious and sordid, it attempts to be all laughs, all the time. It doesn't always deliver, but the show is performed with total commitment from each actor and retains a cheery tone despite the heavy subject matter.

Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
The cast is hit-or-miss. Jessica Holtan Breed (playing Mary) has a wonderful voice, and it's easy to see how she could launch into larger, more familiar musical roles (Disney princess, much?). Gregory Adam slips in and out of his disguise as the wiley Raoul more comfortably than a pilates instructor and her Ugg boots.  And although not the strongest in the vocals department, Anthony Sofie fits the bill as the hesitant but adoring husband Paul.

The supporting cast is enthusiastic but inconsistent, particularly in some more pitchy vocal moments. Still, they give the show all they have, and their exuberance goes a long way towards making Eating Raoul a fun experience.

Eating Raoul is great for anyone who loves campy shows - fans of the original Buffy, Rocky Horror Picture Show, or virtually any other seedy 1980s cult classic will eat this show up. More information about Eating Raoul and purchasing tickets can be found by clicking on this link.