In 1987, people fell in love with Baby Houseman and Johnny Castle in “Dirty Dancing.” The summer film, starring Jennifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze, featured explosive dance moves and a hit soundtrack.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the story comes alive on the stage at LIU Post’s Tilles Center in Brookville Friday and Saturday, Jan. 5 and 6.
“The love story is so sweet, but at the same time it’s a coming-of-age tale with a sensuous theme,” says Aaron Patrick Craven, 25, of Kansas City, Kansas, who plays Johnny. “Plus, it makes you want to move.”
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Fans know the plot — and the lines — well. In the show, set at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills during the summer of 1963, Baby catches the eye of dance instructor Johnny while on vacation with her parents and older sister. A spark ignites between them as he teaches her how to dance and she teaches him how to live.
“Baby and Johnny’s main form of expression is through dance,” says show director Sarna Lapine. “There’s something very classic about this love story. It’s as if Romeo and Juliet had a happy ending.”
SCREEN TO STAGE
The musical version remains faithful to the film, but goes a bit deeper onstage.
“One of the main differences is how much more dance there is. We expand on the choreography, which was beautifully done in the film,” Lapine says. “There are extra scenes written by original screenplay author Eleanor Bergstein that contextualize where America was at the time. Those messages are strong and very much alive in this theatrical version.”
Besides Baby and Johnny, there’s another couple, Billy and Elizabeth, who serve as the lead vocalists singing songs from the soundtrack as an eight-piece band performs onstage.
Newcomer Kaleigh Courts portrays Baby. The 22-year-old from Houston is an accomplished ballet dancer who is acting for the first time.
“Like Baby, Kaleigh has stepped into a world that’s totally new to her as she builds a whole other skill set in terms of acting,” Lapine says. “She embodies a kind of innocence but also has intelligence behind it.”
Meanwhile, Craven has the task of taking on the legacy of Patrick Swayze in one of his signature roles.
“You never want to parrot another actor’s performance, but rather bring something of your own to the stage,” Craven says. “I think we were able to create something that combines the energy and spirit of the film with a more fresh approach.”
One of the biggest moments comes when Johnny enters the Kellerman’s dining room and delivers the classic line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” when he confronts her father, who disapproves of the couple’s relationship.
“Whenever Johnny says that line, we always get this huge reaction from the crowd,” Courts says. “It feeds the energy onstage and makes us want to give it back to them.”
Craven agrees, “We don’t want the audience to sit there quietly. We want to hear the crowd because it just pushes us further.”
Of course, the show concludes with the performance of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” when Baby and Johnny lead the cast in the final dance, and he famously lifts her into the air.
“It’s such an iconic moment and one of most fun parts,” Courts says. “The crowd gets so excited, and that makes me excited.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, at LIU Post’s Tilles Center in Brookville
INFO 516-299-3100, tillescenter.org