Dirty Dancing -- Theater Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Shooting stars into the night, like the movie "Dirty Dancing" did 22 years ago, the West Coast premiere of the dance musical at the Pantages ought to sell a lot of tickets to Angelenos putting on the Ritz.

The story, two-and-a-half hours of emotional performing arts jolts during a young girl's coming of age at summer camp in a far-away land a few months before JFK was shot, seems seriously capable of making an audience beg for more.

Emotionally speaking, "Dirty Dancing" might be entertainment-lite, but as pure, unadulterated dance entertainment -- with Kate Champion's sexy, leggy choreography raising the fever and director James Powell moving things along without seeming to hurry -- is dynamite.

From the moment he steps onstage, Josef Brown (Johnny) ravishes the crowd with the electricity and raw sexuality of his elegant dancing and the moody punch of his acting. Knowing better than to venture into the lair of Patrick Swayze, Brown transforms the character into a darker meld of Latin desire and Gaelic poetry. Whether he's laughing at love or sneering at fate, the effect is electrifying.

As the adolescent who can't wait for her heart to break wide open, Amanda Leigh Cobb (Baby) pulls off the nearly impossible feat of transforming an ugly duckling into a beautiful young woman by throwing everything she has at the part, which is plenty and hot. The impossible part is that Cobb identifies so completely with the incongruous innocence of her character that even losing her virginity to Brown's character has a convincing spiritual purity about it.

The dancing Housemans, Pressmans, Schumachers and Kellermans -- not to mention the multitalented resort staff -- match the leads at every turn. Britta Lazenga adds an imaginatively provocative touch of mystery to her role as a hoofer with a heart of gold. Katlyn Carlson brings down the house with a dizzy broad number that Carol Burnett would be proud of.

The Jacobsen Entertainment production glitters with very expensive, overwhelmingly beautiful and impossibly thrilling bit of high-tech wizardry. Cinerama Dome-type screens, magically stitched together at the seams, materialize whenever a big dance number or an intimate love scene gets under way. The effects are surprisingly, even discreetly hip, and well worth their expense in pure entertainment value and quality.

Venue: Pantages Theatre, Hollywood (through June 28).
Cast: Amanda Leigh Cobb, Josef Brown, Britta Lazenga, Ben Mingay, John Bolger, Kaitlin Hopkins, Katlyn Carlson
Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: James Powell
Choreographer: Kate Champion
Scenic designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Costume designer: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting designer: Tim Mitchell
Sound designer: Bobby Aitken
Video and projection designer: Jon Driscoll
Music supervisor: Conrad Helfrich