Dirty Dancing’s Doug Carpenter is having the time of his life

Audiences will have the time of their lives at the Orange County premier of “Dirty Dancing, The Classic Story On Stage” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, beginning Feb. 3 and running until Feb. 15. The book is by the 1989 movie’s screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein so it should come as no surprise that it follows the beloved movie almost line for line. Indeed, it’s a trip down memories lane for us oldies but goodies. And, the iconic sixties’ sounds will have younger audiences dancing in the aisles.“Dirty Dancing” is billed as a musical but a couple of things set it apart from the typical Broadway blockbuster. First, it’s become an international hit without ever having been performed on the Great White Way. It opened in Australia in 2004 and continues to play to sold out audiences throughout Europe, finally embarking on a North American tour in late 2007. To date there are no plans for a Broadway debut.The second unique feature of the “Dirty Dancing” production is it’s unusual musical structure. This show sounds and feels like a musical but it isn’t exactly one. It’s a mix of sound tracks, singing and orchestration. The lead players never sing – instead a non-stop soundtrack boosts the performance numbers or serves as background music for the story. It works because this is a dancer’s show.Some songs are sung by ensemble members backed by a live band. Johnny’s cousin Billy Kostecki, played by Doug Carpenter, has several featured solos. Carpenter explains the show’s spotlight on dance.“Dirty Dancing is not a musical in the conventional sense – it’s mostly just the movie on stage," Carpenter said. "The main characters tell their story through dance. Sure, some characters, Billy is one, sing as background to the story. But there aren’t moments when the players burst into song for no conceivable reason. Basically, this is a play with music where the dancing is organic to the story and that why it’s called ‘Dirty Dancing’ not dirty singing.”Carpenter is a classically trained award winning singer and actor known for playing leading men in regional theater. Because of his background, I was curious as to why he auditioned for a show with such a strong focus on dance. The answer, like “Dirty Dancing” itself, is all about love. His girl is a dancer and he hoped they’d go on tour together. Of course, it helps that he didn’t have to dance to land the role of Billy.“I was drawn to Billy because he’s goofy, fun and there’s such a range to his personality," Carpenter said. "And on the plus side it’s a singing part.”“Dirty Dancing” follows the adventures of Frances “Baby” Houseman during a three week family vacation at a resort in the Catskill Mountains in 1963. When she comes across ‘dirty dancing’ in the staff quarters, she learns about romancing, dancing and standing up for what you believe. Carpenter’s character, Billy is the catalyst between Baby and dance instructor Johnny that pivots the plot forward. Carpenter describes his character Billy as “Johnny’s cousin, the guy who carries the watermelons. I’m a silly, girl chasing fool and it’s just so much fun to goof around on stage as Billy. There’s so much to like about my character, the music and songs are great, but it’s nice to have the freedom to just enjoy the role. The show is one big party and I guess you can say I’m having the time of my life.”Video and projections of historical events of that period, references to civic rights and the Cold War, lend a cinematic edge to the show. Carpenter feels this sets the mood for Baby’s rebellion against class divisions as she mixes with the resort’s staff members. He says, “Baby and Johnny’s coming together mirrors class struggle. There’s the same sort of resolve in the struggle for equality in the racial movement. Baby is a free spirit who rejects class separation and seeks the joy in life.”While sub-plots of abortion and prejudice lurk just under the more light weight surface, Carpenter feels that audiences should and will just enjoy the show for what it is – a joyful triumphant of the human spirit. As he says, “it’s just entertainment, a banquet of dance in which love conquers all.”“Dirty Dancing” has been so successful on tour, according to Carpenter, because people love the movie.“The film is a part of our cultural image," Carpenter said. "When Johnny says ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’ audiences burst into applause. I think it’s successful because like the Rocky Horror Picture Show everyone knows every line.”Like the lines, folks will be familiar with the popular songs. However, Carpenter says, “the best scenes are the dance ones with big lifts, that like the Lindy Hop are fast, fun and very athletic.” Interestingly, his favorite song isn’t one of his own, but “You Don’t Own Me” by ensemble player Jennlee Shallow. He enthuses that her rendition is beautiful and that he has never heard it sung better. As for what he considers the musical’s highlight – that would be the last 5 or so minutes of the show when he sings “Time of My Life.”Audiences, too, will have “the time of their lives” because characters in “Dirty Dancing” are likable, the dancing is incredibly energetic and the timeless love story is so intriguing . Theater patrons will rediscover everything they loved about the movie, live on stage.For a visually stunning good time, featuring the best beats of the sixties, catch “Dirty Dancing, the Classic Story On Stage” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Segerstrom Hall Feb. 3 – 15. For tickets and information: The Box Office, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, California 92626; Online at scfta.org; Phone at 714-556-2787. Box Office and phone hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

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