Classic '80s film 'Dirty Dancing' coming to Benedum Center stage
Samuel Pergande owes Patrick Swayze a debt of gratitude.
Growing up in Milwaukee, his enthusiasm for singing opera and taking ballet lessons made some of his high-school friends uncomfortable, he says.
That changed after Swayze appeared in the 1987 “Dirty Dancing” as the masculine Johnny Castle who taught Jennifer Grey's Baby some steamy dance moves and a few other things.
“Swayze made dance cool for guys,” Pergande says.
After a career in classical dance that included an apprenticeship with the American Ballet Theatre, roles with Joffrey Ballet and appearances at international festivals in The Netherlands, United Kingdom and New York, Pergande joined the North American cast of “Dirty Dancing” and later joined the London cast as Robbie and covered the role of Johnny Castle.
He's now playing Johnny in the national touring production of the live stage musical “Dirty Dancing,” which plays from April 7 through 12 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
It's set in the summer of 1963, during the three weeks that 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman is on vacation with her older sister and their parents at a resort hotel in New York's Catskill Mountains.
Fascinated by the racy dance moves and pounding music rhythms the staff enjoys during their off-hours, and attracted to head dance instructor Johnny, Baby gets drawn into their world. When an emergency arises, Baby is enlisted to fill in for Johnny's dance partner. In the weeks that follow, she learns life lessons on and off the dance floor.
Fans of the 1987 film are loyal and many. They remember and savor the movie's iconic moments — the scene on the log, the lifts in the lake, the sambas in the staff's hall — and can quote its most famous line: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
Sandra Stern, Lionsgate's chief operating officer, says the movie is one of the company's most beloved and timeless properties.
“It remains a perennial best-seller in our film and television library,” Stern says.
Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the script for the movie, as well as the book for the musical, was determined to not disappoint that audience.
“As I learned how many people watched the movie over and over and over, I began to think that what they really wanted was to share more intensely in the event, to step through the screen and be there while the story was happening,” Bergstein says. “Writing it for the stage, I was also able to add more Baby and Johnny scenes, more about the family, more songs I couldn't afford last time, and, most exciting of all — more dancing.”
She also added songs she had wanted for the movie and had been unable to obtain: “Save the Last Dance” and “This Magic Moment.” Also in the musical's score are “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby,” “Do You Love Me?” and the obligatory “(I've Had) The Time of My Life.”
Pergande also wants to give fans what they want.
“This show comes with a huge fan base. You've got a lot of people who don't normally come to the theater. The audience is very free-spirited. They come in wanting to have a lot of fun,” he says.
“This was Swayze's role. What fans want is the energy and masculinity he had, the energy. He created it,” he says. “I try to bring a lot of strength to the character but also passion. I try to bring a lot of heart to the character.”
A decade of movies about dancing began with “Saturday Night Fever” in the late 1970s and ended with “Dirty Dancing.” Here's a review of some of the most popular films from that gotta-dance era:
“Saturday Night Fever” (1977): It ushered in the era with John Travolta and his iconic white suit in a story about Tony Manero, a working-class Brooklyn kid striving to become the king of the disco dance floor.
“Grease” (1978): It taught a generation that they were “Born to Hand-Jive” in this high-school romance, set in the 1950s, starring Travolta as bad-boy Danny and Olivia Newton-John as good-girl Sandy. A TV remake is planned for 2016.
“Fame” (1980): It follows four students on their educational journey through a New York City school for the performing arts. Best known for its iconic “I'm gonna live forever” scene of kids dancing in the streets and on top of cars. Some know it as a TV series that ran from 1982 to ‘87 with Debbie Allen as a demanding teacher. There is also a 2009 remake in which Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth appeared as teachers.
“Flashdance” (1983): Pittsburgh was the setting for this movie about an exotic dancer who dreams of becoming a ballerina. Actress Jennifer Beals remains unforgettable for her character's dance that ends with her being drenched in a downpour.
“Staying Alive” (1983): The sequel to “Saturday Night Fever” returned Travolta as Tony Manero living his dream and trying to make it on Broadway as a dancer.
“Footloose” (1984): Kevin Bacon starred as urban teen Ren McCormack with itchy dancing feet. When he discovers that his new town has banned dancing, Ren begins a campaign to get the law repealed. The film was remade in 2011.
“Dirty Dancing” (1987): Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey heated up the silver screen with this tale of a young woman and a dance instructor who find love and themselves during three weeks at a summer resort in 1963.