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POP REVIEW : Looking for the Steam in 'Dirty Dancing'

August 16, 1988|MIKE BOEHM | Times Staff Writer

Sometimes a show-biz enterprise that has little to do with the creative impulse but everything to do with the love of a buck can throw off a spark of life.

Welcome to the "Dirty Dancing" tour, put together by the man who repackaged the Monkees. The shrewd calculation here is that there is a ready-made audience for a song-and-dance show derived from a hit movie and its two mega-hit sound-track albums.

The package arrived Sunday night at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa (prior to a three-night Greek Theatre run continuing through Wednesday), stuffed with dance routines and stage gimmicks that were so much worthless packing material. Wrapped in this dross were musical segments by Merry Clayton, the Contours, Eric Carmen and Bill Medley that had enough intermittent spark to keep the 110-minute performance from being a cynical exercise in consumer manipulation.

In the movie, a formulaic, platitude-filled tale of Borscht Belt romance between a rich girl and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks--set in 1963 to allow for plenty of musical nostalgia--the key dance scenes were duets in which close-ups of various erogenous zones helped generate the choreographed steaminess that was the film's main attraction.

On stage, as many as 14 dancers cluttered the proceedings with aimless routines. The Dirty Dancers, some of whom appeared in the film, were an anonymous bunch who failed to carve out individual personalities.

At their worst, the Dirty Dancers saddled the Contours' zesty hit "Do You Love Me" with an extended shtick that turned the number into a distended bore.

Eric Carmen's unsatisfying, anorexic set lasted just 15 minutes and--after a passable version of his current hit, "Make Me Lose Control"--lost intensity as it went along.

Merry Clayton, best known for her immortal wailing on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," is a strong soul-belter who by turns echoed Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. Her vocal gymnastics breathed some fire into "Almost Paradise," an otherwise turgid ballad sung as a duet during Carmen's segment.

Bill Medley's closing set was the show's saving grace. Medley was the only figure in the ensemble who projected star-quality assurance, and he lifted the show's capable, 11-member backing group to full-rocking tilt in a 25-minute set heavy on rock and R&B oldies.

The evening's high point was Medley's soaring version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," featuring guest harmonies from Bobby Hatfield, his partner in the Righteous Brothers. The song had nothing to do with "Dirty Dancing," and the crowd loved it. The moment was a welcome reminder that if you have a fine singer and a memorable song, there is no need to wrap it in a contrived package to turn on an audience.

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