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    Bit to Do

    Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage
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    Nobody puts Baby in a corner. Especially not in Louisville, a city flourishing with electric theatre. Beloved classic-turned-stage-show Dirty Dancing is about to dance its way into our hearts and charm us like Swayze- courtesy of PNC Broadway in Louisville. Actress Margot White, who plays Baby’s mother, Marjorie Houseman, was gracious enough to give a sneak peak into the inner workings of this thrilling production.


    Margot White, playing Marjorie Houseman on the Broadway tour of Dirty Dancing

    ** Everyone loves Dirty Dancing. It would be unusual to ask a random person on the street and have them not know about this cult classic.

    Margot White: It really is kind of a cult classic, isn’t it? At the same time, it’s popular… Sometimes cult classics not everyone knows. But the great thing about Dirty Dancing is it does have this huge following, but it is also completely in the mainstream. It’s kind of like the prom queen that everybody loves.

    MW: Exactly! With people so familiar with this tale, what is the main attraction for seeing this story now set for the stage?

    MW: Well, I think one of the things that Eleanor [Bergstein, screenwriter of the film and book writer for the musical] had gone for when she was making the movie- she made this story that was so acceptable to pretty much any coming of age story.

    … The great thing about the dynamic of the live theater event is that it puts you one step closer to actually being… at Kellerman’s... with them. The access of that different medium is something that is really appealing for this show. I know that Ms. Bergstein, the screenwriter and book writer we were just discussing, has mentioned that she feels that the “natural form” was destined for “the theatre.” It sounds like you agree with that.

    MW: Definitely. I think it does make a lot of sense. And the nice thing that is done with this theatrical version of it is that it is still very much the movie you will see all of your favorite lines and you’ll see the storyline develop, the love scene. They have amazing LED projections that basically create the scene for you in the backdrop.

    You will feel like you are inside the movie; but yet, it’s a live version of it. Which is a really great trick. The thing that [Eleanor] has done so elegantly for the stage version is that it is not Dirty Dancing: The Musical; it’s Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage.

    …You’re not going to see Baby and Johnny break out into song and sing randomly to each other. She kept the story pretty sacred to it, so that there are singers that are assigned wonderful songs, but the story is still what the main draw is. Along with the dancing. The things that the dancers do, you will not believe. It’s absolutely incredible. How has the choreography changed?

    MW: Well, I’m not one of the dancers. I play the mom, so my choreography is like foxtrotting. But for the dancers, you will still see… the famous lift- Baby and Johnny have their lift they do. And all of the dancers around Kellerman’s. They’re working on routines and whatnot. You’ll see them just enjoying themselves basically in the back scenes of Kellerman’s and there’s a show-stopper number too. You’re playing Marjorie Houseman. What do you think specifically makes her role compelling in a modern day and age?

    MW: Well, the nice thing is about this is that [Eleanor] was able to flesh out the characters more with the live version… I know a lot of people having seen [the movie] say, “I don’t remember Marjorie having that many lines in the movie.” It’s a more fully fleshed story…

    The other thing that she has done with this story is she has also been able to flesh out a little bit more of the time period that we’re in. So, 1963: Martin Luther King was giving his “I have a dream speech.” It’s the summer right before JFK was shot. So, it’s this time of anything is possible and anyone can change the world. And very shortly after that, all hell broke loose with the sixties.

    I think that that is important even now. The world is constantly changing and we’re constantly being presented with these up and downs. When Obama came in in 2008, there was a sense in the world that almost anything was possible. And now obviously that has changed as well. I think there is constantly a pendulum shift in any worldly decade.

    And as far as Marjorie, she’s definitely a woman who is concerned about her daughter… It’s simply a coming of age story and she wants to be there for that in the ways she knows how, as a mom. I think that’s a very contemporary thing as well, in the 21st century. Very. So you feel that by delving further into those family relationships, do you think that strengthens the show by getting a deeper insight into these characters? In this live production, it sounds like we are getting a closer window into this family.

    MW: Definitely. Let’s not forget that… what Baby essentially does when she falls in love with Johnny- she helps Penny go through an abortion. And she has her father help with that, because he’s a doctor. That puts a huge strain on their relationship. And let’s not forget that abortion was illegal at that time. So that certainly puts a contemporary spin on it as well, because we’re certainly going through all the [debates about] de-funding of Planned Parenthood. It brings to light a situation that was a huge issue- and it’s obviously still a huge issue. I think that puts a very definite contemporary spin on it. Some circumstances are still at play today, which is astounding. There are so many relevant topic matters going on in addition to just that love story that you almost forget about the relevance that it holds today.

    MW: Exactly. [Eleanor’s] been able to add this lovely scene around a campfire and a couple of the Kellerman boys are going to help do voter registration down south…when black people were still getting rights to vote… And look at our nation now. Look at what’s happening now. It’s a very similar situation- Ferguson, and all of the black lives matter. It’s still a very relevant topic. So it’s fascinating how current this show written in the eighties about two decades earlier in the sixties is still relevant two and a half decades after it was written. That is pretty amazing. I suppose history has a way of repeating itself, remaining prominent for years to come. Now, hopefully, we have progressed since the eighties.

    MW: Absolutely. It’s essentially a universal story, which is why I think it’s so compelling and why it has held on for the ages. I mean- it’s a Romeo and Juliet story. It’s a coming of age story about love. It’s West Side Story. It’s anyone who has ever fallen in love with anyone. It’s anyone who has ever had a dream that they wanted to pursue or has questioned what their purpose is in life and is looking for that.

    Dirty Dancing Everyone has had that time in their life where they have learned to become independent. Everyone has experienced passion in some way; or if they haven’t, this show kind of gives them something to aspire to with Baby and Johnny’s love. And then there is the progression of all the social justice and injustice in the world. Learning to accept someone in spite of bias that might have influenced a first impression. I bet it makes for an amazing story for you to be a part of now as well, now that it is a live production.

    MW: I’m thrilled. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this production. I think it’s a fantastic production. For my own track record, this is the first musical that I have done in twenty years, so I am super psyched to be a part of it! I remember actress Kelly Bishop’s scene at the end, and I thought she owned that. It is stellar that you get to reinvigorate this role and make it your own. You get to be Baby’s strength. As you see in the movie, it seems like there is a little bit of an insight at the end, where it is almost as if Baby gets some of her feistiness from Marjorie Houseman.

    MW: Yeah, definitely! Well, …I haven’t seen the movie actually in a long time, and I decided not to watch it before diving into this role. I don’t remember all that is revealed in the movie, but in the show, it gets revealed at the end in another really lovely moment that there’s actually a similar story- that she had a similar story about falling in love with someone and you know, having their hearts broken by them. And the way that it ends is happier. Which is always nice- when there’s a happy spin at the end of heartbreak.

    MW: Exactly. And it sounds like a really compelling mother/daughter moment as well.

    MW: It’s a really lovely scene that she’s been able to write, that Marjorie does have a scene with her husband, just saying, you know, you need to include me in these things. I didn’t know that you were off in the middle of the night helping Penny, and I need to be included in this. This is a family. And your family matters. And the choices that you make affect all of us.

    So, it’s not really a women’s rights sort of piece, but it certainly is a woman holding her own in marriage, not backing down. She’s not one to back down and just allow things to happen. She wants to be a part, but in a very respectful and loving way. She very much loves her husband.

    I love it. I love the character. I love playing her every night. What’s your favorite part about playing her?

    MW: It’s funny. Probably my favorite part about playing her is the part that scares me the most, which is singing and dancing! This is something that I haven’t pursued since college. So it’s almost like a wheel-come-full-circle moment. You were destined to sing and dance again- and be a part of this musical production.

    MW: Exactly. So I am super enjoying it. It’s great. Yeah, I definitely like everything about doing it. You mentioned that you made a personal choice to not re-watch the movie and study it, but go from your own interpretation. What influenced your decision to do so?

    MW:  … I feel… when the baseline is the movie, those performances are exactly what they are every single time you’re going to watch it… If you’re watching a movie to base a character, it’s easy to copy everything you see. That edited version is the finalized version. That’s the one that made the cut. That is the show. And I think it’s valuable for a stage performance to find your own moments first and just the moments that are being given to you from your partner on stage, your scene partner, or from your surroundings- as opposed to something you saw from a movie and trying to emulate that finalized product. Almost like it restricts your creativity in a way.

    MW: Exactly, exactly. And at this point, I might go back and watch the movie, and I might learn a few things and try to [take] a few moments and such. Getting into it, I only had- I got there on a Tuesday, and I was performing the following Wednesday. So, I had a week of rehearsal to learn all the dances, to learn all the songs, and the scenes and blocking in this production. So, a week is not a lot of time, and I certainly did not want to be bogged down with trying to impose what I thought the role should be. I wanted to be openly available… I needed to be more just on my own game by being available to what was being thrown at me, instead of coming in with my own agenda. What kind of process did you go through to find the heart and soul of who you think Marjorie Houseman is?

    MW: Well, we went to work with the director, and Eleanor as well, and there is one particular scene- it’s the scene where she is confronting her husband about what has been going on, and I was able to work with them a lot on that scene. And hearing Eleanor say again and again how she is the heart and soul of the family… She’s like the orchestra conductor in a way. All the dynamics that are happening with everyone in the family. I have found her strength definitely with working with them through the audition and I have brought that to a solid scene. And I think it’s… any process of learning a character… and knowing what’s going on around you, what moments are being said and given to you. It sounds like while not having women’s rights as a focal point of the production, there is a bit of a feminist spin there now, and she speaks up even more so than in the movie.

    MW: I think so. She does speak up, but not in a nagging sort of way, but in a- it’s very equal way. In a partner kind of way. And that adds to the theme of the show. There is a lot of mistaken first impressions and trying to open people’s minds. There is a focus on equality in that show that all of these things can kind of get glazed over when you fall in love with Baby and Johnny’s love story, but that’s definitely a huge part of what makes this such an enticing show.

    MW: Yeah, it’s universal. It’s wrong side of the tracks meets right side of the tracks. Those are actual terms. It’s black meets white. It’s women’s rights. Equality of women. Equality of race. It’s equality of social status. It’s equality of economic status. It brings up all of those issues, and all in this extremely exciting, great night at the theater.

    I mean, audiences go crazy- with “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” they just go crazy. And you hear the first drumbeats of the play- it’s just rock star. The audiences are like, “We can’t handle this- we’re excited!” We’re right there with her. It’s very exciting. It’s phenomenal dancing. And the two singers- just, pipes for days. What are the songs they will be singing? I am assuming we can expect to hear some “Hungry Eyes.”

    MW: Yes. She’s done a nice job of actually mixing- again, because it’s not a musical, everyone isn’t singing every song. So she’s done a nice job of taking- some of the songs, you’ll hear the soundtrack of it, and some of the songs are live versions, with a fantastic band playing and the singers singing along with it. It’s a good mix of which songs get sung live and which songs you’ll hear the soundtrack from the movie. As you were saying, it sounds rock star. Iconic. Classic. But still new and interesting.

    MW: Exactly. It’s nostalgic, and yet, it’s also very new. Which is a terrific combination.

    MW: Exactly. If you’re coming to see it, you’re definitely going to see everything you know and love about Dirty Dancing, but you’ll also come away with a few surprises and things you might not have been expecting. Well, we will be excited to see what surprises are in store.

    MW: It’s definitely a fantastic night at the theater. 100%.


    Dirty Dancing- The Classic Story on Stage, will be playing at the Kentucky Center from October 13th through the 18th. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $31.25. Visit online at or call 584-7777 to go to Kellerman’s for an evening and fall in love all over again. Groups of 10 or more should call 800-916-6101. 


    All Photos: Courtesy of Broadway Across America, including logo: courtesy of Broadway Across America's facebook page

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    About Julie Lamb

    Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.

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