Musical remake for Dirty Dancing

The 1987 hit movie, Dirty Dancing, starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
The 1987 hit movie, Dirty Dancing, starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.PHOTO: VESTRON PICTURES

NEW YORK • When Dirty Dancing, a coming-of-age film set in 1963 that depicts a family's summer vacation spent at a Catskills resort, came out in 1987, it was an instant and unexpected sensation.

Reportedly costing just US$6 million, the movie earned US$214 million at the box office and won the Best Original Song Academy Award for (I've Had) The Time Of My Life.

It also prompted a generation of young women to cut and roll their jeans to the knee (paired with white Keds), while transforming Jennifer Grey into the hero of non-traditionally pretty girls everywhere and Patrick Swayze into a major celebrity.

Now, 30 years later, ABC will broadcast a musical television remake today that painstakingly tries to maintain many key elements of the original.

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Even the network's marketing poster features the new stars, Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes, as Frances Houseman (nicknamed Baby) and Johnny Castle, tenderly entwined in a pose eerily reminiscent of the iconic movie-poster image of Grey and Swayze.

But as Twitter will most certainly note, much is different in the ABC update, which is produced with Lionsgate Television.

Not only has a 100-minute film been extended into three hours (including commercials), but the producers have added an inter-racial flirtation, an explicit attempted date rape and a sexless marriage crisis for Baby's parents. The characters now sing as well as dance.

That creative tightrope of just how faithful a new Dirty Dancing should be concerned many involved in the 2017 version.

"I understand what it's like to be a superfan," Breslin said. "I love Twilight and was worried they would mess up the book."

The ultimate goal was to make the movie more relevant while not changing the overall tone.

"We are not trying to mimic the original," she said. "If you try to do that, you won't succeed."

Just as the original did, the new Dirty Dancing focuses on her character, Baby, as she vacations with her family at the Kellerman's Lodge in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

It is summer 1963, before the Kennedy assassination shattered the shiny facade of post-war Americana.

Baby is soon to leave for Mount Holyoke College with plans for a career in medicine, while her older sister, Lisa, is played by Modern Family star Sarah Hyland.

Dr Jake Houseman, the strong and sagely man-of-the-family portrayed on the big screen in the 1980s by Jerry Orbach, remains steady and circumspect, played in this remake by Bruce Greenwood. His wife Marjorie is played by Debra Messing.

It is her character whose story is the most fleshed out addition, part of the new version's bid to be more than a teen movie. No longer is she a yes-dear wife who does not add much. In ABC's version, she is a housewife on the verge of becoming an empty-nester and a woman whose husband's attention is fully focused on his career.

"You haven't touched me in almost a year," she laments to Jake.

She is not willing to accept the emptiness of her marriage and her awakening creates a crisis for the Houseman family.

"Communication about sex has always been a tricky thing in American culture, especially back then," Messing said.

For her, as with many of the cast members and creative team, the 1987 movie was a formative cultural moment. "I remember seeing it in the theatre as a teenager, and seeing this character who had un- Hollywood hair and an un-Hollywood nose, but she still was the protagonist and I thought, 'I'm Baby,'" she said.

"Now I know that every teenage girl thought she was Baby and that was the magic of the film."

A different character had a similar effect on the choreographer of the remake, Andy Blankenbuehler, who won Tony Awards for his choreography of In The Heights and Hamilton.

As a boy who loved to dance, he had few role models. Then came Swayze as Castle.

While rethinking the dances for the new Dirty Dancing, Blankenbuehler said: "It was important not to throw away what millions of people loved, including myself.

"When Baby walks into the bunkhouse... they were so alive and sexy.

"I wanted to capture that exact same thing," he said, "but with all-new steps."

Some elements remain untouched.

As in the movie, a main plotline hinges on an unwanted pregnancy and the illegal abortion that ends it. And the film's most memorable line - "No one puts Baby in the corner" - stayed, though Ms Jessica Sharzer, who wrote the teleplay, considered cutting it.

Ms Allison Shearmur, the executive producer who oversaw the project for Lionsgate Television, urged her against making that mistake. "Don't touch that line. We'll get slaughtered without that line," she recalled Ms Shearmur telling her.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Musical remake for Dirty Dancing'. Print Edition | Subscribe