The national touring production of the musical Dirty Dancing, The Classic Story On Stage arrives in Tempe at ASU Gammage Tuesday, February 17 and remains in town until Sunday, February 22.
Among the show’s large cast is actor/singer Emily Rice from Dallas, Texas who took time out from rehearsals to talk about the musical, her role, her time performing on a cruise line and what the future holds, including a certain special life-altering event booked for this coming November.
Having not seen Dirty Dancing since the film’s initial release back in 1987, my memory of the story and the characters remains cloudy. I began our conversation by asking Emily the following:
Who do you play and where does that character fit in to the story? I play Lisa Houseman and she is Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman’s older sister, and she is part of the family; all four of them – the mom, the dad, the two sisters – and they go to upstate New York for a three week vacation; and her sister, she kind of contrasts Baby. She’s more interested in nail polish, dresses and boys than Baby is.
So, you’re right there during that moment when Johnny Castle states that no one leaves Baby in the corner. I am, sitting right there at the table.
As that line has now become so iconic, how do audiences react when they hear it? It varies from city to city, but the majority of the reaction is thunderous applause and cheering, and you feel like you’re at a football game like you’ve scored a touch-down.
Is that the same when audiences hear the opening bars to (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life? It’s definitely iconic and the fans go crazy for it.
Is the arc of the show basically the same as the film? Almost exactly. Almost word for word. The script of the show follows the movie. There are a couple of added scenes; one where they’re at the camp fire. A couple of scenes were cut and a couple added. But, pretty much word for word.
How about the music? The film had a terrific soundtrack but I’m guessing the show has the opportunity to include even more. Yes, it does. They incorporate songs from the movie. There are two singers who are also characters in the story who sing a lot of the music live that was recorded as part of the soundtrack. And they have a band that is on an upper platform and they stay there the whole show, and they play a lot of the music that was the score of the movie.
Is that the same with the choreography? Does the show give dancers the chance to go even bigger than the film? It definitely does. On film you only get certain shots but not the whole dance in real time. They use a lot of the steps that were in the movie and they incorporate them into the show.
Even though this is an American story, the show didn’t come from Broadway, but from overseas. Do you know its history? I don’t know the whole time-line but I know that it had been in Australia, then throughout Europe and then in London. It’s also been in South Africa, so it’s had a grand tour. It had a mini-tour here in the U.S. five or six years ago where it hit three major cities. They tried it out and found it was a little too lengthy, so they cut down some work and tightened all the bolts so that it was compact, and it’s a better show now.
How did you land the role of Lisa? Through my agent. I got an e-mail from her just three days before my audition with the material. I remember getting the song and having a vague memory of the movie but not the song. I remembered the song was in the background of the movie but not in the forefront like it is in the show. In the show it’s an entire musical number for the talent show, and I went in and had an initial audition and three call-backs. Each call-back was a succession of four days, and there were less and less people in the hallways. I went in, they gave me some adjustments and here we are.
Some actors have to wait months to hear whether they’ve got the role or not. That’s unusual to be told so quickly, isn’t it? It’s definitely a big puzzle, and, you know, there are stories of other people in our cast who did have to wait, you know, four or five months before they actually heard from them, so I was really grateful. My story is really unique, I think, to have that quick a turn-a-round within a week. To have an audition then to be told you have the job is really unusual.
This is not your first national tour, is it? I was a part of the cast of A Chorus Line out on national tour in 2010. It was under the direction of Baayork Lee who played the original Connie on Broadway when it opened. And that was about an eight month tour of the U.S. and I played Vicki who was not one of the principles, but I covered about six roles, so I had a swing job for that tour. It was challenging and I learned a lot.
Does life on the road come easy or is there a time of adjustment? It’s been easier this time because I’ve done it before so I had an idea what to expect, but it’s always an adjustment to be traveling every week or every other week. It takes a lot of stamina, a lot of endurance, planning ahead, but I’m grateful that in this we have a lovely company of unique individuals and that makes the process of traveling a whole lot more enjoyable.
How long do you have until your tour with Dirty Dancing ends? I’m on a year contract, so my contract ends on August. I’ve got about six months left.
You were away for some time working on a Disney Cruise Line. Was that a positive experience? It was. I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s something I want to do again just because, again, it’s another way of life to get used to, living on a ship for eight months. To be away from phone service and Internet capabilities is difficult, but I’m grateful for the people I met all over the world and just getting used to that style and that way of life. The sunsets and the beaches weren’t bad, either.
Looking at your resume, I see that the majority of your work has been musicals. Do you naturally gravitate towards musical theatre? Definitely. Since I was little I always remember my dad playing old records for me from musicals when I couldn’t sleep at night, and I’ve always watched movie musicals. I did maybe a few straight plays in high-school but as soon as I got into college, musicals became my focus. I had two summers of the Broadway Theatre Project in Florida and that kind of solidified my passion, my focus for musical theatre.
You were born and raised in Texas, but like most actors, you moved to New York. Was that difficult? It was exciting and difficult. It definitely took about a year, maybe a year and a half to feel like I had some roots or I’d planted my feet and found a community of people that I liked, because you do feel like a fish out of water when you go there. You know, you’re young, you’re fresh out of college, but I knew it was a move I had to make if I wanted to pursue this, and you have to be there for the auditions. I mean, now it feels like home, but it was an adjustment for sure, especially coming from Dallas, Texas, which is a completely different world from New York.
Your southern accent has all but disappeared, were you aware? I’ve had people telling me that all the time. My parents have really thick accents, but I guess because of being in shows, I’ve kind of rolled it out of my voice.
It is true you were working five jobs in New York while looking for auditions? It really is true. Maybe three of them were different baby-sitting jobs, but yes, they were different people I was baby-sitting for. I also did promotional work. I’ve really had a number of strange, odd jobs. You go through seasons of lots of work and you go through other seasons.
And finally, what of the future? It’s a little early, but I will be thinking about that in a couple of months. I’m getting married next November, so that’s a life event that’s happening.
Congratulations. Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to that, so my fall season will be centered around that, and then I’ll be looking for the next show.
Is you fiancée also in showbusiness? He sure is. He’s an actor/singer as well. His name is Lance Fletke and he is currently in New York. He proposed to me on the Dirty Dancing stage in Durham, North Carolina on September 20th. It was pretty sneaky. He had it all setup. He had told me he had already flown back to New York and there he was waiting with roses and a suit and tie.
So, forget Baby; on that night it was you who had the time of their life. I sure did.
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage can bee seen at ASU Gammge in Tempe February 17 – 22. To find out more regarding times and tickets CLICK HERE for the ASU Gammage website.
To find out more about Emily CLICK HERE for the official Emily Rice website.
Our thanks to Emily and to Em-Grey Photography and Justin Patterson Photography for the use of the pictures.