Classic moves made new and deeper9/9/2015
You might think Alex Scolari is too young to appreciate “Dirty Dancing” and too much of a California girl to care about Iowa. The movie made a sex symbol of Patrick Swayze back in 1987, years before Scolari was born. Yet in conversation, she upends your expectations.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the movie,” she says. “And I’ve definitely got Iowa pride.”
Scolari’s father was raised in rural Cass County, and he graduated from Iowa State University before moving west. For his daughter, her first trip to Des Moines on tour with the movie’s adaptation feels “super-exciting,” she said.
“Dirty Dancing: the Classic Story Onstage” is also Scolari’s first job out of college, and it is a featured role. She plays Lisa, the sister of the lead, “Baby.” Baby was Swayze’s partner in the movie’s most spectacular sequences, and naturally these have been kept in this version. The productions travels with a full band, and it wouldn’t be “Dirty Dancing” without the duet of Baby and Johnny balanced on a log.
“The movie is such an icon,” Scolari said. She adds that it “knocks her out to see the two leads reinterpreted by Gillian Abbott and Christopher Tierney.”
“Those two have such a connection,” she says. “They’re just incredible.”
Scolari’s role includes a number everyone remembers, with a hula-hoop. The hoop alone, Scolari says, is an audience trigger. “Just seeing me walk in with that thing, people start applauding.” Yet in the stage show, Baby’s sister has more to do.
“Lisa is changing costumes all the time,” Scolari said. In the adaptation, she explains, “You learn a lot more about her as a person.”
Altogether, more than 20 new scenes have been added to this version. The playwright, Eleanor Bergstein, also penned the movie, and she had the idea that its magic would work onstage as well. Hooking up with established stage professionals (the director, James Powell, enjoyed a long career in London), Bergstein developed the story, creating the more intimate connections theater requires.
This team has “done a tremendous job,” Scolari says, both “keeping moments you remember” and “creating something new and unique.”
Bergstein and others came to Chicago as the tour got underway, and for Scolari, it meant a lot to meet the braintrust. More than that, it helped her realize “there’s a serious side to this story.”
After all, the movie’s best-known line was “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” That sounds like feminism these days, and back in 1963, when the story is set, such talk was more shocking. The same goes for the plot’s racial conflicts and its life-threatening illegal abortion.
“We delve more into the conflicts onstage,” Scolari says.
Overheard In the Lobby: On Sept. 11, two New York heavyweights take the stage in Des Moines: Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound” at RTI, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” at the Playhouse. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.