‘Dirty Dancing’ makes clean transition

Gillian Abbott (Baby) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny) in the North American tour of Dirty Dancing – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE.
Gillian Abbott (Baby) and Samuel Pergande (Johnny) in the North American tour of Dirty Dancing – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. Matthew Murphy

Almost 30 years after “Dirty Dancing,” female filmmakers like Eleanor Bergstein are still the exception.

But in 1987, when Bergstein set out to make an independent film about the suggestive style of underground dancing she’d witnessed in the ’60s, the tenacious novelist/screenwriter/producer was adamant about key parts of the film, including its cast, its 1963 setting and a soundtrack that was true to the era.

“Everyone was against me with the music,” says Bergstein, whose stage version of “Dirty Dancing” begins a six-day run Tuesday at Belk Theater. “Everybody told me the kids wouldn’t like it and now it’s sold what? 56 million copies.”

She encountered the same resistance when moving the ’80s classic to the stage after realizing that its devoted repeat viewers longed for a more involved viewing experience. (“Their nose kept hitting the screen,” she jokes.)

Experienced Broadway traditionalists working in musicals offered to write new songs for Johnny and Baby to warble at each other. She balked.

“Why would I do that?” Bergstein says. “I picked the most wonderful music (for the movie) and it’s so important in memory. I started with the music and wrote the scenes against it (for the musical). Why would I have a new score? That’s just really wrong for this.”

Still, the supersized two-hour musical is not a carbon copy. Bergstein created 21 new scenes that bring context to the political backdrop that coincidentally makes “Dirty Dancing” resonate even more than it did in the ’80s.

“I didn’t think we were finished with Roe vs. Wade in 1987, but I didn’t think (we’d still see) men forced to fight in a war or race relations, but everywhere we go across the country, these are the headlines. All these sad things are back again,” says Bergstein, a political activist who volunteered for President Barack Obama’s campaign, going door-to-door in Cleveland in the freezing winter.

“In some places I hear, ‘Why did she stuff civil rights in? We weren’t talking about that in ’63,’” she says. “That was so stunning to me the first time somebody said that. It was in everybody’s mind then. The things I thought were solved just weren’t at all. I’m quite chagrined that I even thought they were. It’s fine that things I wrote about 1963 turn out to be topical, but then again, it’s not fine that they are still topical.”


‘Dirty Dancing’

WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Tuesday; also 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. June 19-20 and 1 and 6 p.m. June 21.

WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $20-$120.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.