Interview with Matthew Amira of ‘Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage’

Written by Danielle Boise, Photography Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

I was lucky enough to have a few moments to speak with Matthew Amira, the man who plays the villainous character Robbie in North American Tour of Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage, which happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the film’s release. With a grand scale production, including 28 cast members, will take up residence at The Cobb Energy Centre starting on Friday, November 25  and runs through Sunday, Novmeber 27. The quintessential narrative takes us back to the summer of 1963 to the New York Catskills Mountains where passions erupt, love is found, but most importantly learning about one’s self is at the core of the story. With an extensive theatrical background, Amira talks about what his favorite part of playing the true “bad” boy of the tale is to what it’s like to be part of a traveling show.

You have a diverse theatrical background, from performing in The Hunchback of Notre Dame to She Loves Me to Fiddler on The Roof; but Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is your touring debut. How is it different performing in a traveling show, verses being at the same location night after night?

Being on tour doesn’t get dull, that’s for sure! When you are in a regional production, the show remains fairly consistent. On tour, the show keeps changing from city to city. Sometimes we’ll have a very polite audience, and other times we’ll have a rather rambunctious crowd. The show will begin to reflect the personality of what city we’re in. Audience reactions are different each night, people respond to different things. It keeps us on our toes. Also, it’s an incredible opportunity to see what each town has to offer – the history, the entertainment, and most importantly, the food.

How did you prepare for the role of Robbie?

I prepared like I would with any other role. I go in with an open mind and try to find some common ground with the character. In the case of Robbie, he may be going about some things the wrong way, but to him, he’s doing it for the right reasons. I had to figure out those reasons so I wasn’t just playing a surface level jerk. I feel an actor should always believe that they are the protagonist and main character of the story. Even the bad guy.

What is your favorite part about taking on the persona of this character?

My favorite thing about Robbie’s persona is that he believes he is smarter than everyone. Even if he’s not, he believes it. When I go into a scene I remind myself: “I’m right, you’re wrong. Why? Because I go to Yale and you don’t.” Isn’t that what you wish you could always say when you get into an argument? And no, I don’t say that on stage necessarily…but I’m definitely thinking it, and it feels good.

How does it feel to play the scoundrel of the story?

Scoundrel! I like that. Honestly, it feels great. Every story needs an opposite force to push against. Without conflict, there would only be some impressive dances and pretty people to look at. I love doing my part so Johnny can be set up as the hero of the story. If I get hissed and booed, it just means I’ve done my job.

What is your favorite scene of Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage?

My favorite scene is the fight where Johnny gives Robbie a whooping. I was thrilled when I found out we got to do stage combat every night. It also does a lot for my character. Robbie fights dirty…he makes it clear that he’s got a backbone and not some preppy little pushover. I love hearing the shock and awe come from the audience! It’s quite an adrenaline rush.

Growing up were you a fan of the movie?

It came out in 1987 so I did not grow up with it. Actually, I didn’t see it until I got the audition! When I got that appointment, my girlfriend made me sit down and watch it with her. I’ve seen it six times since.

Finally, what do you hope fans will take away from night with Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage?

I hope that fans take notice of the time period that Dirty Dancing takes place in. I hope they realize how relevant the story is today. The writer, Eleanor Bernstein, specifically chose the summer of 1963; the summer Martin Luther King Jr delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Our story shows how prejudice can get in the way of love, but you must always fight for what is right. We still live in a country divided as ever before and discrimination is still a very real thing. I hope this show encourages fans to fight for acceptance, inclusion, and love. Love always wins.

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