Performer grows through role in ‘Dirty Dancing’

Dirty Dancing is more than just a coming-of-age story of 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman.


There’s another side of the story that Aaron Patrick Craven sees every night as he plays the role of Johnny Castle, the man Baby falls for. Because of his relationship with Baby, Johnny has his own transformation, said Craven.

Dirty Dancing will be at the Bell Auditorium on Monday, Jan. 8, as part of the Broadway at the Bell series.

“He really has a pretty negative outlook on life” at the beginning, said Craven.

Johnny knows the hand he’s been dealt in life and works his best at playing it, but he doesn’t really believe there’s more for him until Baby comes along, Craven said.

“He’s never met anyone like Frances ‘Baby,’ ” he said. “He’s never met anyone with the inner goodness she has. She’s fascinating to Johnny. He’s never known anyone who would stick her neck out for him, and he’s never had anyone step up for him.”

Johnny has a lot of layers to him, and he sees them as the story unfolds, said Craven, who didn’t become familiar with the movie until he was in college.

“Growing up, I had heard of it. I knew that my mom loved that movie,” he said. “But I hadn’t become entirely invested in it.”

As with most theater adaptations of films, there are differences between the stage and screen versions. Craven said there are more scenes and more musical numbers in the stage version, and Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote both the screenplay and play’s script, added more into the characters for the stage version.

“There’s a lot of depth to the characters, and there’s a lot more historical references,” said Craven.

Dirty Dancing is set in the summer of 1963 in the months just before Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Craven, who received his bachelor of fine arts in dance performance and choreography from Wichita State University in 2015, has been part of the Dirty Dancing tour since it kicked off in October. He’s also appeared as Pepper in Mamma Mia and Diesel in West Side Story. Both of those plays were performed with Chicago’s Paramount Theatre.

Dirty Dancing will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $60-$81.

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