Daddys and lovers

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  February 19, 2009

At the Lyric, on Janie E. Howland's gold-and-peachy-toned boudoir opening onto a veranda increasingly lit by a Delta moon, Edmiston underlines the intrusive character of the Pollitt family, with Cheryl McMahon's Big Mama and Mae's cap-pistol-wielding brats thundering through like Sherman's army. Mellow, slinky jazz horns introduce the action — which will turn out to be neither mellow nor slinky, the play's final seduction more a hostile takeover of the weak by the strong than a soft surrender.

Statuesque Georgia Lyman (a friend) takes on the iconic role originated by Barbara Bel Geddes, played by Elizabeth Taylor in the watered-down 1958 film, and memorably essayed by megawatt sirens Elizabeth Ashley and Kathleen Turner. Lyman is a tough, calculating, even febrile Maggie — though more of the vulnerability of the once-confident vixen whose husband loathes her might be in order (along with the frank sexuality that made one critic describe Ashley's cat as "vaginal"). An underplayed Big Daddy would be like a trickling Niagara, so that term can hardly be applied to Veloudos. But Edmiston solicits from the actor a rasping, perspiring performance in which there is as much tired raging against the dying of the light as there is crude, cruel bravado. Kelby Akin, a stony if sometimes incomprehensible Brick, isn't up to either Lyman or Veloudos, though he's very physically adroit; there is more of his character's stamina and defeat in the way he spars with and gets knocked off his crutches than there is in all his sulking. More heartbreaking is McMahon's Big Mama, a braying, bejeweled bull of a woman whose heart is as large as her husband's contempt.

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DIRTY DANCING: Nobody puts Baby in a 100-minute movie.

Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and nobody should put "We Shall Overcome" in Dirty Dancing. But among the bloating elements that have turned the 100-minute 1987 movie into the two-and-a-half-hour Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage (at the Opera House through April 12) is a heightened sense of the social activism a-birthing that summer of 1963, when daddy's girl Frances "Baby" Houseman meets sexy have-not Johnny Castle at Kellerman's Catskills resort and learns to mambo both vertically and horizontally. The stage show, already a smash in Australia, London, Germany, the Netherlands, and Toronto (and waving its Broadway aspirations like a flag), comes as close as it can to bringing the movie to steamy, literal life while lamely pointing up the sociopolitical context that screenwriter and librettist Eleanor Bergstein considered too subtle in the film. And if you ask me, that's making Baby carry way too many watermelons.

I am not, however, the target audience for this show, which comes with its own pre-made, pre-sold fans; they're on board from the initial, silhouetted dancing to "This Magic Moment" to the much-awaited climax when Josef Brown's buff Johnny comes striding up the Opera House aisle to object to Jennifer Grey look-alike Amanda Leigh Cobb's geographic placement on the last night at Kellerman's. And when Baby finally does "the lift," well, it's a wonder medics are not standing by.

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Related: Winter's tales, Play by play: February 20, 2009, Derailed, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Movies, Elizabeth Taylor,  More more >
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