ABC’s Dirty Dancing remake fails to ignite our hearts or our feet.
ABC celebrated Dirty Dancing turning 30 and produced an overly PG version of the movie with none of the original sex appeal. And the dancing? At times palatable, at others, horrifying.
Like many others my age, I grew up quoting Baby’s lines, hugging my pink double-cassette-stereo as Swayze’s “She’s Like The Wind” crooned to my girlfriends and me at sleepovers, and being excited by the forbidden dirty dance moves at the staff party. It was so sexy (the charismatic performances, obvious sexual chemistry, and brilliant dancing) and therefore sophisticated and adult in our young adolescence. There were members of the ensemble in the original oh-so-dirty dance scene that I can still picture vividly. I remember being shocked at the blatant sexuality and thrusting while already recognizing the natural fluidity and effortless execution of moves that didn’t appear choreographed. I cringed with Baby and adored her for her embarrassment at announcing she carried a Watermelon.
Imagine my horror as Abigail Breslin announced: “I carried HIS Watermelon”! Why? Was is really necessary to change that iconic line? For what impact other than to outrage those of us who remember the script word for word?!
This was one of the many OMG moments during this not-so-dirty drawn-out remake.
ABC’s staff party scene with its bland choreography danced with more focus on making the moves look good than on expressing musicality and finding chemistry with a partner, left me cold. While there was some good dancing going on in the background, the lack of apparent spontaneity could not match the original’s excitement. It is an ambitious move, to find replacements for Jennifer Grey, Cynthia Rhodes and the late Patrick Swayze who all left an indelible impression; and the attempt to turn this movie remake into a musical (sort of) with the characters singing only some of the well-known numbers themselves presented the film as simply a vehicle for the stars to sing a song or two and prove they can do it all. Except, in this case, they cannot, and the dancing suffered.
The hope that we could bask in nostalgia died as soon as Johnny (Colt Prattes) and Penny (Nicole Scherzinger) took to the floor for the first time. Nicole is a capable dancer with great legs and is undeniably attractive, but did nobody tell her to stand up straight and pull her shoulders back? Instead of suggesting that regional dance jobs are filled with exceptionally talented individuals equal to those on Broadway (which was one of the many added themes in this remake) this particular dance performance smacked of what it was – a couple of mediocre dancers on a small dance floor at an obscure summer vacation club. Some of the choreography by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler was interesting and paid homage to the original but the performances just did not do it justice. Being emotionally transported by the dancers’ moves was clearly not on the cards.
The bar is naturally higher when a great number of the audience is already familiar with the material.
The iconic moments must be kept to please those fans that remember every move, and if the aim is to excite a new generation of youngsters then the scenes need to be raunchy and captivating. The themes of the ’60s (the film is set in 1963) are explored in greater detail in this remake and are probably not inspiring any new discussion: Baby’s reading of The Feminine Mystique, her mother Marjorie (Debra Messing) examining divorce and the monotony of a listless marriage, and Lisa (Sarah Hyland) exploring an inter-racial relationship with Marco (J. Quinton Johnson), did not offer new angles to themes we are all familiar with, although they provided some distraction from the lack of chemistry between the leading players.
There were some decent (pre-recorded) vocal performances and added songs that served to draw out this three-hour-long-with-commercials event. Scherzinger’s “Whole Lot of Shaking Going On” was a fairly painful couple of minutes and clearly aimed to give her a chance to show off her voice although the same cannot be said of her dance moves, echoed by Breslin. The scene in which Penny and Johnny are both holding Baby’s hips to propel them in the right direction sorely missed Rhodes’ sexy leotard and the electric eye contact and the omission of the famous tickling arm moment is a travesty! I was gratified by Prattes’ jump off the stage into the audience in the talent show scene but quickly horrified by the square triplets that were clearly an attempt at a throwback to Swayze’s sexy travel down the aisle but with none of his groove or charisma.
The theatre production of Dirty Dancing delivered all the expected highlights and memorable moments without attempting to masquerade as something new. I saw the tour as it passed through Miami with a dear friend in the ensemble and the familiar characters were recognizably type-cast, the actors told the story with care and attention and the dancing was top-notch; after all, dancing is integral to the story – how can Baby and Johnny’s last lift not be breath-taking, soaring, beautiful and an inspirational end to a dancing extravaganza? In ABC’s remake, the lift defines the whole movie: lacking in finesse and chemistry, and culminating in relief that he managed to get her above his head at all and that the ordeal is over at last.
Also by Katie Hurrey:
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