Monday, October 20, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare The Time Of My Life?

So the stage version of Dirty Dancing opened its Chicago run (the American premiere) on Sunday night. I was fascinated by Chris Jones' review in the Trib and even more so by the comments after (39 as of this writing.)

For those who haven't read the review, the point is that the play aims to be nothing more than a direct reproduction of the movie. It goes to extreme length to replicate every song, every line, every shot, even the montages. The point of the play is to be "The Classic Story Live On Stage" as per the tag line. It never seems to acknowledge that theatre and film are different media with different demands, and that it might be a good idea to have a musical in which the two leads actually sing.

The question is, why replicate it with such slavish fidelity? I will confess that I have never seen the movie, so I don't really understand the love some people have for it. But still, why would they pay up to $95 (!) to see a Swayze-less reproduction of something they could watch for free at home?

I'm not against stage adaptations of movies. Often, they have something real to offer to the film. The Full Monty, for instance changes the original's British setting to Buffalo, NY, and has smart, tuneful songs that let us inside the characters. The premise is the same, but the execution is unique. Musicals that take familiar movies and adapt them in memorable and interesting ways are wonderful. It's musicals that seem like nothing more than cynical ways to cash in on the audience's fond memories of movies that seem beside the point. I just don't understand why it's worth it to watch a pale imitation that has nothing of its own to add.

This is why the comments are so interesting: they are evenly mixed between people who agreed with Chris--that the show is painfully unoriginal and weirdly untheatrical--and those who disagree vociferously--saying that any deviation would be blasphemy, so this is the only way to do the show. Their sense of ownership of this movie is so intense that changing anything would be a sin. But I repeat--why put it on stage if it aspires merely to be a replica?

Can anyone explain this to me? Has anyone actually seen the show? I'm really curious to understand this phenomenon, and any help would be greatly appreciated.

1 comment:

Jack said...

The movie version was quite popular, and probably affected the more impressionable members of its audience. The audience is 20 years older. Seeing a stage version of the movie might evoke warm memories of youth. In memory plays, it's important to get the details just right, Since the producers hope to attract a new audience, they are sticking with a proven product. Ergo, the play replicates the movie.