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The time of your life: 8 things to know about ‘Dirty Dancing’ |
Theater & Arts

The time of your life: 8 things to know about ‘Dirty Dancing’

| Tuesday, May 16, 2017 9:00 p.m
Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and Jennifer Mealani Jones (Penny) in the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and Bronwyn Reed (Baby) in the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Jennifer Mealani Jones (Penny), Bronwyn Reed (Baby) and Christopher Tierney (Johnny) in the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy
Matthew Murphy
Bronwyn Reed (Baby) and Christopher Tierney (Johnny) in the North American tour of 'Dirty Dancing.'

“Dirty Dancing” has grown into a cultural icon. The 1987 film starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze still attracts new generations of fans — despite its 30 years.

A music-filled, dance-filled tour of “Dirty Dancing” stops at Heinz Hall May 23-28. The show has hit seven continents over the past 15 years with 23 productions.

We caught up with screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, who also wrote the stage adaptation, to discuss the “Dirty Dancing” phenomenon she started.

The movie was expected to be a flop: “We actually thought we wouldn’t be able to walk out on the street without people laughing at us when the movie came out,” Bergstein says. “It isn’t that we thought it will maybe be a medium success, or a big success. Oh no, we expected it to be a total humiliation and disgrace.”

Despite the low expectations, “Dirty Dancing” earned critical acclaim: Both Grey and Swayze were nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes as best actor and actress. The movie won Oscars for best music and best original song, as well as a Golden Globe for best original song for “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

The story was inspired by the screenwriter’s life: “Rather than based on my life, there are a lot of elements I knew from my life,” Bergstein says. “For example, I went to the Catskills with my parents when I was a little girl. I was a teenage mambo queen. I came from a very working class neighborhood and the dirty dancing steps were things we did in basement parties. On the other hand, I worked my way through college as an Arthur Murray teacher, so there’s as much Johnny in me as Baby. Maybe a little more.”

“Dirty Dancing” is not a musical: “It’s a play with music. I didn’t want a traditional musical the way people sing to each other. I didn’t want Johnny suddenly singing to Baby. It would be ridiculous. What I wanted was the sense that all this music was the soundtrack of people’s hearts.”

The show is 30 minutes longer than the movie: Bergstein added 20 new scenes and 36 numbers of live music played by an eight-piece band on stage. She enjoyed writing the additional material, which clarifies the storyline. “Who just wants to slap a movie on stage?”

The political side of the 1963 storyline has had a lasting effect: “Over the last few years, people are asking more about the politics than if Johnny loved Baby. People started asking about the coat hanger abortion, about Vietnam, the race relations between social classes — and yes, that’s why I did it but I never expected anybody to recognize it. This huge generation of young women have realized how their attitudes was shaped by this movie.”

Nobody puts Baby in a corner”: The line is so iconic, you can find it on onesies and bibs. Other quotes that will put you into movie scenes:

“God wouldn’t have given you maracas if He didn’t want you to shake ’em.”

“Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine.”

“Go back to your playpen, Baby.”

“You just put your pickle on the plates, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me.”

“Last month, I’m eating Jujubes to keep alive, this month women are stuffing diamonds in my pockets.”

It’s not over yet: The original “Dirty Dancing” inspired a 1998 TV series, the 2004 film “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” and a 2006-07 reality TV show called “Dirty Dancing.” The latest homage to Baby and Johnny is a TV movie airing May 24 on ABC, starring Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes.

Sally Quinn is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Categories: Theater Arts
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