St. Louisan Matt Borchers is having the time of his life performing in “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage.”
Not only because it’s his first national tour, but also because this show is taking him out of his comfort zone — a more traditional tap style — and allowing him to stretch as a dancer.
“I’ve been tapping since I was 6 years old. Most of my life I have trained as a dancer, and that sparked my interest in theater,” he said.
The tour, which played at the Fox in 2014, returns for five shows this weekend.
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Borchers, who grew up in St. Charles, Missouri, is part of the ensemble who performs as both the staff and the Catskills resort guests during the musical. He is also the understudy for Neil, owner Max Kellerman’s grandson.
“They re-cast the show in August, and we hit the road in September,” he said during a phone interview from Clearwater, Florida.
He was last seen locally on the Muny stage in 2015, dancing up a storm in “Holiday Inn,” with choreography by Denis Jones, 2017 Tony nominee for the current Broadway production.
“That was an absolute blast. It was my first show at the Muny, and a grew up going there in the summer. It was a dream come true,” he said. After the Muny, the production team prepared it for a Broadway run.
“I got to see it in December. It warms my heart that they finally reached the level they wanted to, and to see their vision finally worked out. The changes are brilliant,” he said.
“Dirty Dancing” is another musical known for its dance numbers. Based on the popular 1987 movie that starred Jennifer Grey as 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman and catapulted Patrick Swayze to superstar status as resort dancer Johnny Castle, a stage show was developed in 2001.
Eleanor Bergstein, the screenwriter of the movie, wrote the book for the musical, and is pleased with this new tour.
“The company that we have assembled for our North American tour is beautiful and truthful. I originally wrote the movie because I love to dance. And since the movie first appeared, the open-hearted audience response has made me believe that everyone has a secret dancer inside them, one they feel could connect them to the physical world in the way they dream,” she said.
She has added 20 more new scenes and the show includes 36 live-music numbers with an eight-piece band on stage. The ensemble features 26 performers.
“It’s been a deep pleasure for us to watch audiences around the country respond as this extraordinarily talented group of people brings ‘Dirty Dancing’ home to North America,” Bergstein said.
Borchers said the musical has taught him a great deal.
“It’s totally something different, and I’ve loved it. For starters, all the partnering. I’ve learned lifts. It’s a great opportunity to work in ballroom style dancing, too. It’s been a great thing to experience as a dancer, a great mix,” he said.
Baby’s on vacation with her family when she sees the staff cutting loose at an all-night dance party. Borchers said learning those ‘dirty’ dance moves has been a challenge, but one he appreciated.
The audience response to the live show is also gratifying.
“Audiences seem to love it. I think a lot of the feedback from the crowd helps. I just love the energy,” he said.
“Of course, it’s not Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, nor is it a film. The stage allows us to open the landscape. The stage full of people is having fun at Kellerman’s, and it comes to life in a high-energy, in-your-face kind of way. People come into it knowing the story, and it’s great to re-live it.”
Borchers is thrilled to perform at The Fox Theatre for the first time and to spend time at home.
“I am so excited. I saw my first professional show there — I saw the tour of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ I think that’s when it will hit me what I’m doing for a living, and it’s what I love,” he said.
“I’m excited to share this show with my friends and family. Just staying at home and being in my bed will be such a treat.”
He’s not the only St. Louisan in the cast. John Swapshire, a graduate of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, is part of the ensemble.
Swapshire has performed with the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre and has trained at the Center of Creative Arts. Recently, he was part of the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company.
Borchers and Swapshire were paired as roommates. “We did not know each other in St. Louis. He’s one of my best buddies on the tour,” he said.
The ensemble is young, for the most part, but there is one veteran they look up to — Jerome Harmann-Hardeman as Tito Suarez, the bandleader.
“He’s the person we all want to be. All the kids’ just love him. He’s a great example for us,” he said.
Harmann-Hardemon was in the original 2014 tour, and has performed on Broadway and in tours of “Cats,” “Dreamgirls,” “Ragtime,” “The Full Monty,” “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” with Chita Rivera. He came out of retirement to join “Dirty Dancing,” and enjoys the young cast’s energy.
A 2015 graduate of the University of Oklahoma musical theater program, Borchers said that training rounded out his singing and acting. He moved to New York following college graduation, and has performed in regional theater and on a Norwegian cruise ship.
“I am finding out now more than ever is that I have to act, too. At the end of the day, acting is what I enjoy,” he said.
His family is musically inclined, all playing instruments. He can play the flute and piano. Singing in church and acting in school plays were part of his childhood.
“Musicals were always fun at St. Charles High School, and it opened my eyes to the musical side of dancing. It’s not just dancing for the sake of dancing. Musicals tell a story in a different way.”
He also performed in youth productions through the Kirkwood-Crestwood Community Theatre.
“It’s so cliché, but I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t dreaming of being a performer in some way. I grew up watching MGM musicals. They instantly spoke to me. I always wanted to perform and entertain. Once I picked up dancing, that was my dream, to dance on Broadway.”
Being on the road is an adventure he has embraced.
“I’m used to a nomadic lifestyle, and I feel I can adapt to anywhere. I love being able to see different theaters and towns. I love food, so finding the local hotspots and seeing the different influences in a city is just so fun. It’s a cool experience traveling the country.”
Motivating people to follow their dreams is one of his goals.
“If I can be an inspiration to kids who might be having a rough time, if I can affect one kid in the audience, to not give up on their dream, I hope I can do that.”
Want to go?
- What: “Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage”
- When: Friday – Sunday, May 12-14
- Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis
- MetroTix: 314-534-1111
- More information: www.fabulousfox.com