Entertainment » Theatre

Aaron Patrick Craven Opens Up About 'Dirty Dancing' on Stage

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 5, 2018

It's a story with mythic overtones and fairy tale resonances: It's 1963, a hazily golden era in America before the social upheavals later in the decade. A young woman nicknamed Baby meets Johnny Castle, an unattached and handsome dance instructor, while on holiday with her parents. It's an instant love match - but more, it's a creative connection, as baby surrenders to Castle's expertise in the physical expression of dance and quickly picks up on the artistry he's showing her.

"Dirty Dancing"'s classic lines are rounded out with spectacular choreography and songs that, since the original motion picture's premiere, have become classics of the American pop genre. Audiences in 1987 had the time of their lives watching Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze inhabit the roles of Baby and Castle; theatergoers had a similar experience when the film was first translated to stage in musical form in 2004.

And the dance goes on! "Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage" launched last October in a new touring production that's scheduled to stop through more than 50 cities nationwide. The show now comes to Boston's Boch Center Shubert Theatre for a five-day run, June 13 - 17. EDGE hastened to catch up with Aaron Patrick Craven, who takes on the role of Johnny Castle alongside Kaleigh Courts as Baby, with the production under the direction of Broadway vet Sarna Lapine.

Craven, a Missouri native, has appeared in a string of classic musicals, from "Billy Elliot" to "Mamma Mia!" to "West Side Story" and "Oklahoma!" He's also toured internationally with Wichita Contemporary Dance Theatre and appeared as a Principal with Ballet Wichita.

Craven tells EDGE about the story's longevity, growing up with the film and being cast in the stage musical, and how this version has everything you loved about the film... and more.

EDGE: What drew you to acting, and to musical theater in particular?

Aaron Patrick Craven: Well, you know, Kansas City has a great theater scene, they do a lot of great work on their own and a lot of great productions come through town. My parents were really great about exposing that to me when I was a kid. Of course, I grew up watching older movie musicals, like "Oklahoma," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Footloose," all that kind of stuff - "Footloose," of course, being much more modern.


Aaron Patrick Craven: And then, of course, "Dirty Dancing," as well. So, I was kind of exposed to that at a young age, and then I kind of found it on my own in high school and I started going out for school plays. It became more of a passion for me, and I decided to pursue it at the collegiate level and then professionally after that.

EDGE: It must have been a thrill to be cast in the role of Johnny Castle.

Aaron Patrick Craven: Yeah, certainly! I had heard about this live version now for several years and based on my background and what I bring to the table in terms of dance and acting, I thought that it might be a cool thing [to do] down the road. So I'm very glad that it's worked out that way.

EDGE: So, how did it work out? How did you come to be cast in "Dirty Dancing?"

Aaron Patrick Craven: I've been in for the creative team before, so they kind of had an idea of who I was. They were looking for the replacement for Johnny, and the casting team reached out to me. They were really getting down to the wire in terms of when they wanted to start rehearsal; I showed up the week before they wanted to start, and I went in for the casting team on Monday, went in for the full creative team and the producers on Tuesday, did all the lyrics and the dances and scenes, everything like that, and then on Wednesday I had the offer. So it happened really, really quickly. But I couldn't be happier about it!

EDGE: Was it daunting to be cast in that role?

Aaron Patrick Craven: No, because I was familiar with the role, was familiar with what it was going to require, I was confident that I was able to [handle the role]. I wasn't overwhelmed; I just showed them what I could do, and if they liked it, great.

EDGE: The musical stage play first premiered in 2004, and the movie that it's based on came out in 1987. What is it about this story that gives it such appeal and such staying power?

Aaron Patrick Craven: "Dirty Dancing" [the film] just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, so now we have three generations of people coming out to see this live version, which is incredible. I think the reason it is so respected and it means so much to so many people is because it touches on universal themes. Of course we have Baby's coming of age story; we have this story of first love, which we can all relate to, we all remember what that's like; and we also have this idea, which I think we explore a little bit more in this stage version, of a kind of having control over your own destiny and choosing your own path, regardless of the rest of the world has to say about it. I think all that combined creates something really special.

EDGE: I remember when the movie came out and everybody was so excited over the dancing. How closely does the stage production stick to Kenny Ortega's original choreography?

Aaron Patrick Craven: What I will say is [everything you loved about the movie] is going to show up - it's just a little expanded in the stage version. We've got 28 show scenes, all written by Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the screenplay for the original film. We have 36 musical numbers. Even if you've grown up watching the movie, there's still going to be something new for you in this production. It does stay true to the film - it's just been expanded.

EDGE: And it's got to include the classic songs from the movie.

Aaron Patrick Craven: Absolutely! Most of the songs from the film are included in the show, and all the ones that people care the most about - "I Had the Time of My Life," it's all going to be in there.

EDGE For people of my generation, who grew up in the '70s and '80s, there used to be some nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s, which was this mythic golden moment in American history. I'm not surprised that there's an audience for "Dirty Dancing," which is set in 1963, but I wonder if people your age still have some sense of nostalgia for that period. If you didn't before, do you now?

Aaron Patrick Craven: It wasn't something that I was particularly cognizant of when I started, but during the rehearsal process - we had about a month of working on the material in New York before we hit the road - during that time it was something that was impressed upon me by the creative team, especially by Eleanor, who wrote the movie and who we were lucky enough to have in the room. That became a noticeable part of it as we were digging into the work. It takes place in the summer of 1963 - a particularly noteworthy moment in the history of our nation, with all the social changes happening at that time, I think that's something we do expand a little bit more on in the stage version [compared to] the screen version.

EDGE: I was just talking with someone the other day about how it used to be the case that plays were made into movies, but now it's happening the other way around. What do you suppose is behind that trend?

Aaron Patrick Craven: You know, it would be difficult for me to speak on the large scale of that question, but something that I can say about this show, in particular, is that when you watch the movie of "Dirty Dancing," it's kind of a movie that begs to be a musical. You see a lot of things these days that are like, "Really? They're going to make that a musical? I don't see how they're going to do that." But I would kind of have the reverse thinking about something like "Dirty Dancing," because you watch it and everything that you need to craft a musical is already in the original film. It's already got the dancing, it's already got the passion, it's already got the amazing music and lovable characters. What's missing, you know what I mean? This is material that just lends itself to the musical stage.

EDGE: It's a nice trend to see anyway - not that theater ever went out of vogue, but for a long time it seemed like movies were pushing theater to the side, and now theater is back in a big way, using movies as source material!

Aaron Patrick Craven: Truly. In the golden age of Broadway ticket prices weren't so cheap, and [movies were a more affordable option]; nowadays it's a little bit reversed. It's great that we have material that will bring people that might not necessarily be going to the theater regularly, but they'll say, " 'Dirty Dancing?' I love that movie. I want to see what they're going to do with that on stage!" I think it's great we have something like to bring people into the theater who might not be regulars.

EDGE: You must be thrilled to work with Sarna Lapine, who directed "Sunday in the Park with George" on Broadway and also directed "War Horse."

Aaron Patrick Craven: Oh, yeah - she's wonderful to work with. I met her for the first time on that second day when I was auditioning for the creative team, and she definitely put me through my paces, but we have a very good working relationship. I really appreciate that. There's a lot of trust there; I trust her vision enough to know whatever she's giving me, that's an opinion I could go with.

EDGE: There must also be a special bond of trust between dance partners because you have to be so on top of it and so willing to give yourself up to the other performer. Was that an easy bond to establish with your co-star, Kaleigh Courts, who plays Baby?

Aaron Patrick Craven: Absolutely, there's a lot of trust there - that's a very intimate thing. We really share the stage for most of this show. Your scene partner has your back, as well as your dance partner, who literally is putting their safety in the hands of somebody else. You have to have a lot of trust there. We were lucky that the two of us work very well together, and we certainly have that.

"Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage" runs June 13 - 17 at the Boch Shubert Theatre. More information and tickets at at this website.

For upcoming dates on the "Dirty Dancing" tour, visit the touring show's website.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook