Though original film star Patrick Swayze is no longer with us, Christopher Tierney channels his sexy dance moves in the show. His voice is a surprisingly close match to Swayze’s, and he also relays a similar ecstatic energy and unbridled passion.
Tierney says he was always “a mover.” As a hyperactive kid, he began taking tap lessons at 12 — an inspired decision after watching 1989's Tap with Gregory Hines. He claims he was “tricked” into taking ballet too. Tierney stuck with ballet for years, performing with Les Ballet Jazz du Montreal and Houston Ballet, then later joining the contemporary dance troupe Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Years later, weary of the regimented world of ballet, he was ready for a change.
Tierney's relationship with director Julie Taymor (creator of the smash-hit musical The Lion King) from his work on the musical Beatles film Across the Universe helped land him a role in the Broadway show Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. Just a few months into previews, Tierney fell 30 feet in an accident at the Foxwoods Theater, breaking 15 bones, including a hairline fracture in his skull and a bruised lung. Four months after the near-death fall, after surgeries and physical therapy, he was back in the theater flying as Spiderman.
“The experience taught me resilience… family,” Tierney says. “I learned how to be a part of something huge. Everything we do in life helps the next action that we take.”
Thankfully, Tierney fully recovered from the fall, came back stronger, and was personally invited by Bergstein to be her Johnny on the Dirty Dancing tour.
“I like the challenge of playing Johnny,” Tierney says. “I really enjoy making it happen live. I had seen it done before, and I really wanted to use my intelligence and movement to bring it to life on stage. It’s challenging, because people have expectations.”
Tierney says the story line of the show mirrors the movie, but Bergstein was able to elaborate more on some aspects of the film that she couldn’t do decades ago, like covering issues of the civil rights movement and fleshing out Marjorie and Dr. Jake Houseman’s relationship.
Tierney affirms, “Everything you saw and loved in the film, you are going to find onstage too.”
His two favorite scenes from the musical are the barn dance, “Do You Love Me?,” and the bedroom scene “Cry to Me” with Baby, played by Rachel Boone.
“The big barn-dance scene is really fun and sexual,” he says. “It’s like a big party you get to go in and blast through the doors and see everybody. That’s the style of ecstatic dancing I really enjoy. And then the 'Cry to Me' scene with me and Baby is tender and a really beautiful scene. Rachel is a wonderful woman that I love working with, and it’s a scene I can really delve into with a lot of heart.”
Tierney says the benefit of going to see the beloved film onstage is that it’s right in front of your face, where you can relive all those feelings of falling in love for the first time and watch all of the incredible dancing live.
“It’s a complete blast to go and watch this girl blossom into something new,” Tierney says. “There’s sex, there’s ecstatic, awesome dancing, there’s a great story line, and it will bring you back. Because we all get to the point where we aren’t teachable anymore and we’re not learning or creating something new. But you can be brought back to that point in your mind and your body and yourself where you first discovered what it felt like to have somebody touch you and you just melt like butter into his or her hands. It brings all the feelings back. Sometimes in this world, we can stop feeling, and it needs to happen.”
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage
April 12 to 24, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35 to $150 plus fees. For the full schedule, visit browardcenter.org.