Jun 20, 2013

[Theater] Dirty Dancing (Marina Bay Sands)

One of the major reasons that my partner and I fly to Singapore so often is to catch the various musicals that get staged there. While some of them still make their way to the Philippines, ticket prices still come out a little cheaper in Singapore (strange, I know), plus the fact that I get to spend more time with my sister. This particular play, Dirty Dancing, is not exactly a play that I'd fly for on my own. However my sister was pretty excited about watching it and so we made travel arrangements to catch it on its last week.

Most folks have at least heard about the movie Dirty Dancing, which helped cement Patrick Swayze as a icon among women everywhere. And that's a pretty high standard to follow, even for a movie that wasn't exactly the most complicated one around. Seriously, it's hard to imagine Dirty Dancing without Swayze.

So I have to admit that I was rather surprised that they had adapted this particular movie into a musical. And while this is a bit of a "rage" in theater circles to turn movies into plays in order to minimize some of the creative costs and reduce their risks, this wasn't exactly a movie prime for adaptation. And so at the very least I was certainly curious to se how they'd pull things off.

Synopsis: Dirty Dancing is a stage musical adapted for theater in 2004 based on the 1987 movie of the same name. This staging was put up by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and was staged at the Marina Bay Sands Theater in Singapore until June 16, 2013.

Like the movie, the center of our story is one 17 year old Baby Houseman (Bryony Whitfield), who is spending the summer together with her family at the Kellerman's resort in the Catskill Mountains. She believes herself to be knowledgeable about the world and is determined to join the Peace Corps after college. Her father, Dr. Jake Houseman (Mark Rayment) was able to get them booked at the resort because he's both a friend and the physician to the resort's owner, Max Kellerman (Mike Huff).

Baby eventually develops a crush on one of the resort's dance instructors - Johnny Castle (Gareth Bailey), and eventually finds herself witness to his "dirty dancing" at a nearby bar thanks to Billy Kostecki (Kyle Grant), who happens to be Johnny's cousin. There she gets an surprise lesson in the Mambo and in turn learns more about what's going on among the staff. The real surprise news is how Penny (Mila De Biaggi) is pregnant and this threatens one of the dancing gigs that she and Johnny needs to get paid for the summer. So young Baby volunteers to take her place, which means just a week for her to learn to Mambo with sufficient skill to pass the standards of the job.

Now a play like this is a little tricky to classify when you really think about it. After all, those of us who saw the movie remember it best because of the dancing. So how does a dancing movie translate into a musical? Do you focus on highlighting the dancing or do you create new songs to flesh it out further as a musical? And it's that central "conflict" of sorts that makes this a rather challenging musical when you get down to it.

From a casting perspective, I can't help but feel that the theater company focused more on the dancing side of the equation. Thus you have amazing talents like Mila De Biaggi, whose dancing skills were jaw-droppingly AMAZING. I mean seriously, she was like a Barbie doll made real with the dancing ability of any prima ballerina. But the acting side of things suffered a lot and thus we had characters somewhat robotically delivering their lines with a fair amount of timing and pacing issues otherwise. And forgive me for saying this, but I felt the leads had some of the most significant challenges in this department. The iconic line of "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" just came out wrong for me and it became unintentionally funny.

In terms of music, this play inevitably becomes more of a jukebox-style show given the lack of original music. Thus the few songs that people do get to sing are familiar ones that either came from the movie or were just iconic for the setting. But this left us with few musical moments and thus I felt the play could have upped the ante by incorporating even more songs in order to tell more of the story. While this might have made things a bit campier (think Mamma Mia), it would have helped the production really feel more like a true musical. It already had a number of campily comedic moments but struggled with trying to define just how far they wanted to push things. And whenever that happens, I find that the show ends up suffering from an overall comedic perspective.

It's a shame too since Kyle Grant, who played Billy, was a rather excellent singer! But this is something that one only gets to appreciate towards the end of the production when he finally has some major numbers to really show off his skills. Both my sister and I found ourselves exclaiming that they should have had him singing like that from the very start of the play.

To top things off, we had an amazing set with some pretty seamless transitions using video wall technology. The end result was pretty impressive, although the constantly shifting scenes had characters almost comically transitioning from one scene to another without warning. This was cool the first few times but later on the net effect was just a little weird.

Dirty Dancing could have been a much more enjoyable play had they case better actors or perhaps had a better director helming the show this time around. And it's a shame since this is probably the first time that I was somewhat disappointed by a show from the group - a bit of a reminder that no theater group is perfect. Still, the show still gets 3 awesome video wall transitions out of a possible 5.

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