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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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‘Dirty Dancing’ opening at Straz Center

Continuing the trend of turning popular movies from the past into stage musicals, “Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage,” opens at the Straz Center on Tuesday.

Based on the 1987 romantic coming-of-age film, this touring production faithfully recreates the cult favorite about a shy, wall-flower teen who falls for a handsome dance instructor at a resort in the Catskills during the summer of 1963.

Dancer/actors Jillian Mueller and Sam Pergande literally step into the roles created on screen by Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. Thanks to DVDs and multiple repeats on cable, at least two and possibly three generations know the story:

Frances “Baby” Houseman (Mueller), a privileged teen, is on vacation with her protective parents at a resort where well-heeled adults drink, party and engage in ballroom movies on the dance floor. She falls for a blue-collar dance instructor Johnny Castle (Pergande) as he teaches her the kind of sensual dance moves the staff does when they party.

The soundtrack includes familiar oldies such as “You Don’t Own Me,” “Hey Baby” and “Do You Love Me?” Plus songs written for the movie “Hungry Eyes” and “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”

The book for this stage version was created in 2004 by Eleanor Bergstein who wrote the screen play that was inspired by her personal experiences and dedicated to all those who have “a secret dancer inside” and wished they could cut loose on the dance floor. A low-budget movie that became a surprise hit, “Dirty Dancing” has earned more than $200 million worldwide.

Pergande, who was trained in ballet and toured with the American and Joffrey ballet companies, says the challenge is not to let the audience down.

“This film was such a huge part of people’s lives, and I’ve heard people talk about how it brought back the memory of the exact time and place in their lives when they saw it,” he says. “Mothers, daughters and grandmothers come with expectations of recalling and sharing those memories.”

Pergande, who also toured in “Billy Elliot,” has a home in Orlando where he performs with Cirque du Soleil. He has his own memories of the “Dirty Dancing” movie. “Back when I first saw it, I thought that it was cool that Patrick Swayze as so cool that he made it all right for guys to dance,” he says.

Pergande and Mueller say the stage version lends itself to more dancing than in the film and there is additional ’60s music. “It’s unusual in that neither of us sing,” says Mueller, who is coming off another production inspired by a past movie hit “Flashdance – The Musical.”

“My dancing in ‘Flashdance’ was a beast,” she says. “I did a lot of solo, fast-paced, aggressive dancing. In ‘Dirty Dancing’ my character starts out as a bad dancer and gets better. This is slower more romantic dancing.”

Mueller says she was familiar with the movie because she had auditioned for a remake of the film that was announced in 2011 (to be directed by original choreographer Kenny Ortega) but it never got into production.

“The audiences seem to love it,” she says. “It’s got a lot of music that people love, and they know the story.” She says original writer Bergstein worked closely with the cast. “It’s her baby, and so she’s been very hands-on.”

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