Put Baby in a corner

Blame it on 3 additional scenes and a greater emphasis on the civil rights movement in America (which felt very half-hearted) in the script, or understudy Luigi Vigliottio standing in for lead actor Gareth Bailey after he got into an accident. Either way, the stage production of Dirty Dancing playing at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre, lacks the dreaminess and romance that made the original movie such a sizzler.

In the summer of 1963, 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman spends her holidays with her family at Kellerman’s, a resort in the Catskill Mountains. Growing up in an affluent environment, Baby is innocent to the workings of the world. She plans on going to college to study the economics of underdeveloped countries then join the Peace Corps, so this is her last summer as a carefree adolescent. Surprisingly, she is struck by Johnny Castle, the camp’s dance instructor, and develops a crush on him. When Johnny’s dance partner, Penny Johnson, becomes pregnant after a fling with one of the waiters, Baby lies to her father to obtain money for Penny’s abortion and fills in for her while Penny goes for the procedure. As Johnny teaches her the routine, they fall in love. However, Baby’s father, Jake Houseman, bans Baby from associating with Johnny when he realises that he funded Penny’s abortion and mistakes him for the father of Penny’s unborn child.

So what are the best parts of the show? Here are some highlights that won the cheers and applause from both the audience and UrbanWire:

Mambo, Mambo

Remember when Penny Johnson and Johnny Castle performed the Mambo that first sparked Baby’s interest in dancing? Mila de Biaggi and Luigi Vigliottio spice up that iconic scene by executing a mambo choreography even more challenging than the film’s consisting of flamingos, deep dips and vertical splits with precision and ease.

The scene from the film where Johnny drags Penny across the dance floor during the mambo (left), and the musical interpretation of it (right).

Commanding the stage with her chilli red dress, de Biaggi’s bouncy blonde curls and sizzling dance moves turn up the heat. You can practically hear her say, “Oh, come on, ladies. God wouldn’t have given you maracas if He didn’t want you to shake ‘em.” The engaging duo perfect the moves with seemingly effortless grace and great technique, while retaining a hint of naughtiness.

 

A refreshingly different Baby

Baby: “I carried a watermelon. I carried a watermelon?!”

Bryony Whitfield’s interpretation of Baby’s most recognised line is more an outburst than Jennifer Grey’s self-reprimand. Whitfield almost shouts that line – jaw dropped, with eyes wide open and arms held apart – as the audience cheers to one of their favourite Dirty Dancing liner.

While Jennifer Grey giggles girlishly when Patrick Swayze attempts to trail his fingers down her arm to her waist, Whitfield explodes into full-blown laughter on stage, eliciting shocked chuckles from the audience as people literally jumped in their seats. Perhaps the exaggeration is necessary for the stage, but in this case, her interpretation works as well. She portrays Baby as a more outgoing and loud character, a rather refreshing change from the Baby that has been deeply engraved in our minds. Unfortunately, Whitfield has less success convincing us that she doesn’t know how to dance. Her over-exaggerated jerking of hips, flailing of arms and comical expressions result in a performance that feels fake.

 

The Favourite Sister

Ah, the infamous Lisa. How could we forget the ditsy and vain sister with the obsession to her coral shoes? Genna Galloway’s acting and dancing may be slightly unnatural and overplayed, but her lack of vocal prowess is spot on as she mimics the trembly wails of Lisa’s falsetto to perfection. That in itself is hilarious enough to draw snickers from the most serious people.

 

Well, here are some flops that UrbanWire thinks was a little too subpar for liking:

Not So Dirty Dancin’

Dancers engrossed in their own complicated routines consisting of challenging and dangerous steps such as flamingo dips and flips in the air.

As raunchy and racy as the eye-opening scene that shocked Baby at the staff party, the backup dancers perform spectacularly, bringing the routines up a level from the film’s. Every member of the cast obviously has had significant dance training background, and they may even surpass the standards of popular dance competition shows like So You Think You Can Dance. So why is it a flop? 

The routine’s breathtaking, full of complicated gestures and actions. But because every dancer has their own choreography, the final composite looks like acrobats being spun around and up and down at the same time. There’s way too much hair, arms and legs for viewers to be able to fully appreciate every pair’s choreography. And maybe that’s also why the dancers lose the trademark of dirty dancing – they are so focused on their techniques that they forget the whole point of dancing dirty is about throwing themselves into wild abandonment and just loosening their bodies to the rhythm.

 

The Time of My Life

Johnny Castle leaps off the stage to perform his solo shuffle.

The last scene kicks off with the live band’s slow and melodious notes, and the deep baritone crooning of the movie’s Oscar—and Golden Globe—winning song’s lyrics  “Now I’ve had the time of my life…” fills the silence, raising the hairs on one’s arms and an exhilarating shudder of excitement down one’s spine. People begin to sit upright in their seats, the atmosphere buzzing with anticipation of something more.

Sadly, it plummets from there. The female vocalist sings in a pitch too high, and at an extremely high volume – making it too distracting to be engrossed when you’re trying to refrain yourself from plugging your ears with your fingers.

Vigliottio and Whitfield perform their dance with practiced confidence, but they lack the heart palpitation-inducing chemistry between 2 people who are truly and deeply in love. Without the attraction and the vibe, the choreography becomes just a bunch of fancy steps and good technique, but that’s all there is to it. They lack chemistry, period.

 

The Lift

The iconic ‘lift’ that makes one’s heart soar along with Baby as she jumps and Johnny lifts her up.

The biggest disappointment of the night was the much-anticipated lift. In the film, Baby runs towards Johnny and jumps into his arms, as he holds her up in the air. On stage Whitfield takes a few hops towards Vigliottio, with just the slightest hesitation that seemed to put a pause to the show- before he carries her into the air. What just happened there? The final form may have looked exactly like the film’s, but with entirely different results.

Penny may have been right when she says, “Go back to your playpen, Baby.”

Ultimately, the less than satisfactory acting, overall lack of chemistry and unrealistic LED animated set design turn the entire show into a less than professional outing for die-hard fans. The rapid and choppy scene transitions and short dialogue scenes that contain insufficient story details may also be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with the plot.

While the musical itself isn’t completely inadequate, the dissatisfying lift that everyone so fervently looks forward to is only be slightly redeemed by the surprising star of the night, Penny. Mila de Biaggi is one feisty Penny who oozes sex appeal, with amazing dance techniques to match. However, for the ticket price, Penny shouldn’t be the only highlight. After forking out the cash for this, you may still go home aching to re-watch the finale of the film.

 

Dirty Dancing runs till 16 June, with tickets starting from $55 at SISTIC.

About Ng Poh Hian

Random musings and constant questions has never gotten her satisfactory answers, so Poh Hian dreams of exploring every crevice and corner on the earth for herself. A resolute believer that everyone has a story to tell, she relishes striking up conversations with absolute strangers (while secretly analyzing them) and listening to their life stories. Armed with a fearless nature that scares everyone but herself, Poh Hian revels in throwing caution to the wind and going to the extreme. An adrenaline junkie, she takes delight in the thrill of anything exciting and dangerous. Rollercoasters, skydiving and horror movies (The Eye or Dark Water, anyone?) - bring them all on. Her motto in life is cliché but true, “ What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.

One Comment

  • August 7, 2013 | Permalink |

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