‘Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage’
Through Sept. 14
1321 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
$48 and up
For Rashaan James II, “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story On Stage” is an especially pleasurable gig.
“It’s the sexiest cast I‘ve ever worked with,” says the out actor, “and I get to dance with them every day. It doesn’t feel like work at all.”
As part of the musical’s ensemble, James is embarking on a yearlong North American tour that is currently kicking off at D.C.’s National Theatre. Based on the same-titled 1987 feature film that catapulted Patrick Swayze to stardom as a sexy dance instructor at a New York Catskill mountain resort circa 1963, this “Dirty Dancing” joins instructor Johnny Castle (Samuel Pergande) with 17-year-old vacationer Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jillian Mueller) in a steamy tale of forbidden love and suggestive dance moves.
James, who is “in his 30s,” remembers first seeing the movie version when he was a young dancer.
“Patrick Swayze gave guys permission to dance. He was on the big screen moving his hips and dancing. It was great. There weren’t a lot of things in the general pop culture that made me feel dancing was cool. It was incredible to see a guy doing what I loved to do.
He calls co-star Johnny Pergande, who plays the Swayze role here, “perfect” and says he’s especially well cast because of his background in ballet and ballroom.
James himself can attest to the rigors of the show.
“We do Latin and American ballroom, and all the dirty dancing that the resort staff does after hours in their quarters,” says James who hits the gym five days a week whether he’s in a show or not. “And the production’s cast is talented and diverse. It makes sense contextually. The resort is described as the first place in the Catskills where whites and people of color swim in the same pool.”
Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., James was known as a singer — he was a soloist in both youth and adult choruses. He also acted and did a little dancing in school musicals at his all boys Catholic prep school. But it wasn’t until he went to University at Buffalo to earn degrees in musical theater and dance that he discovered he was a true dancer.
“Spoke to me,” he says. “Movement had been a part of me, but didn’t realize I was passionate about it until I started doing it. And there was no turning back. I’m a dancer through and through. And I’m a singer.”
Two days after graduation, James loaded the U-Haul and moved to New York City, his home base ever since.
“As a musical theater boy, I get to do everything and do it all in one show. I try to glean pieces from all three of the crafts: music, acting and dance. I’m forever aspiring to be triple threat.”
And James harbors ambition to step out of the chorus. He’d love to play Harlem pianist Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime” by his favorite songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
“Coalhouse is a complex character who has the biggest emotional arc of any musical theater male character that I can play,” he says. “And any part that Brian Stokes Mitchell (‘Ragtime,’ ‘Dreamgirls’) or Taye Diggs (‘Rent,’ ‘Wicked’) have done, I’d love to do those too.”
There’s a lot from the movie here, says James: the dramatic dance lifts, the hit songs “Hungry Eyes” and “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” and that unforgettable line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
“It’s a beautiful show,” James says. “It has what the movie has and more.”