TORONTO -- In its highly anticipated stage version, "Dirty Dancing" probably won't be the time of your life. Depending on the circumstances, it might not even be the time of your weekend.
The show, which had its humble beginnings in Australia in 2004 and later became a smash hit in London, launched its first North American production at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre on Nov. 16. Producers were evidently riding on expectations that the massive popularity of the film would fuel ticket sales regardless of the production's quality. And now, as the Toronto show is now selling well through August 2008, they've already been proven right.
But even with a slick set design, talented ensemble and what would seem to be a foolproof plot tied directly to North American heartstrings, "Dirty Dancing" cannot decide whether it is a film or a musical. In the end, it turns out to be neither.
But first, the good news. Leads Monica West as the painfully naive Baby and Jake Simons as the hot-blooded rebel Johnny Castle are fine dancers, and very easy on the eyes at that. A couple of amazing vocal soloists can be found in 2005 "Canadian Idol" winner Melissa O'Neill and Ryan Gifford. And despite everything its creators have done to drag things down, it remains impossible not to squeeze some enjoyment out of the musical's 50-plus songs. Most are instantly recognizable and some -- get this -- are performed live before your eyes.
While scores of Hollywood films have been successfully adapted for the stage (see "The Producers" and "The Full Monty"), what binds those successes together is at least some degree of significant departure from the original. But with "Dirty Dancing," most of original screenplay writer Eleanor Bergstein's supposed "adaptation" seems to have been done by Microsoft Word's copy and paste features.
Manifold problems occur in trying to preserve the finer points of a film that wasn't very good in the first place within a form that can't possibly sustain those points.
Most everything that made the film so much fun is preserved, including its hokey dialogue, its quintessentially '80s low-rent music montages and its awfully contrived story line. All of which would be fine if the medium was celluloid and not real, live human bodies.
The biggest sin, though, is a curved, three-panel video screen that mostly displays ineffective digital backdrops that resemble Windows Vista advertisements. Other times, horrendously, the screen shows live video footage of dancers onstage. It's this sort of Jumbotron, wedding video melange that makes what should have been a sure bet so confounding.
Are we supposed to watch the real dancers or their digital counterparts? The answer is that we probably should have stayed home and moved the 1987 film up a few spots in our Netflix queue.
WHAT: "Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage"
2 stars (Out of 4)
WHEN: Through Aug. 21
WHERE: Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St., Toronto
TICKETS: $40 to $200
INFO: (416) 872-1212 or www.dirtydancingtoronto.ca