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Playing Dirty

Director James Powell discusses the American premiere of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. logo
A scene from the London production of Dirty Dancing
(© David Scheinmann)
While theatergoers are increasingly being presented with musical stage adaptations of films from the not-too-distant cinematic past, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage, now getting its American premiere at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theater, is different than many of its predecessors, explains director James Powell. "It is not a conventional musical by any stretch; it's a play with music," he notes. Still, the show, which concerns a sheltered teenager who falls for a more worldly dancer at her parents' Catskills resort, definitely lives up to its title. "The dancing is breathtaking," he says.

As with any stage adaptation, the audience's expectations must be taken into account, notes Powell, speaking of his biggest challenge. "In my position, I'm either accused of being too literal or depriving the audience of what they anticipate," he states. "That's a very fine line to tread. There are moments in the play where we use our technology in an abstract fashion because we can't do a literal translation right to stage. You have to guide your audience deftly through that, yet you also have to honor what the audience is expecting and add to that experience as opposed to diluting it."

Powell, who is British and helmed the show's London production, has now changed a few things that were specifically created for the European audience -- which was not familiar with the American iconography surrounding a summer in the Catskills. "Here, you would be browbeating your audience and insulting their intelligence if you left that in." he says. In fact, he points to a similar situation with a musical in which he appeared as an actor. "When Les Miserables opened in France, they did it without the prologue. It was such a famous book there," he says. "The prologue was only added to help an audience that wasn't French."

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