They never danced this dirty in the Catskills.
“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” debuts Friday, 17 years after the first “Dirty Dancing” became a box office smash with its tale of a young girl’s coming of age during one steamy summer at a resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
But don’t call 2004’s version a “sequel.” In Hollywood parlance, it “re-imagines” the original movie — spices it up, in a way — with a story set in 1958 Havana only weeks before Fidel Castro’s Communist rebels overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Battista.
If the Catskills were hot in the summer of 1963, then Havana in the late 1950s must have been sweltering because in “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” bodies press tight together as they dance to the Latin rhythms. And did the rehearsal dancing between stars Romola Garai and Diego Luna ever get too dirty?
“Absolutely!,” laughs choreographer JoAnn Jansen, on whose life “Havana Nights” is based.
Jansen has worked on about 20 films including “Along Came Polly,” and she and producer Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction”) spent some six years developing a movie based on her senior year in high school when she lived in Havana.
Artisan Entertainment, now owned by Lions Gate Films, had for years been looking for just the right way to retell the 1987 hit starring Jennifer Grey as Frances “Baby” Houseman and Patrick Swayze as the Catskill resort dance instructor, Johnny Castle, who makes Baby’s summer sizzle.
It wasn’t until Jansen, Bender and their partner, Miramax Films, took “Havana Nights” to Artisan that the “Dirty Dancing” name was attached to the movie. As a result, what you get is a similar coming-of-age story, but in a decidedly more exotic locale and completely new characters.
Different dancing, still dirty
“This film is very different in many ways,” said Garai.
In 1958, high school senior Katey Miller is plucked away from her suburban St. Louis home and, along with her younger sister, taken to Havana by her parents where they move into the American-filled tourist hotel, the Oceana.
Katey is a bookworm and rather plain. She doesn’t get along with the other American girls whose fathers also have been transferred to the island nation to drum up business.
Her passion is dancing, which her parents understand all too well because they had been competition ballroom dancers in their younger years but quit to raise a family.
Once in Cuba, Katey falls in love with a Cuban boy whose brother was a revolutionary. She dances the night away with her dangerous young lover unbeknownst to mom and dad.
“It was the big taboo, the big forbidden fruit in those days,” Jansen said of her dating a local Cuban boy.
Katey eventually learns about racism and bias, and she attempts to look beyond those stereotypes to see people for who they are and understand different cultures.
“Havana Nights” does tip its hat to the first movie in a couple of ways. Swazyze turns in an appearance as the dance instructor at the Oceana. And the tale remains that of a young girl’s transition into adulthood.
Yet, “Havana Nights” has the political drama of the Cuban revolution, exotic setting of tropical Cuba, and sexy Latin music that has been updated in some cases with hip hop beats.
“We really wanted the audience to go from young girls all the way up, and there is also some incredible Latin music happening at this time,” Jansen said.
Lions Gate Films is a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment , and Miramax is a unit of The Walt Disney Co.