Christopher Tierney doesn’t mind stepping into Patrick Swayze’s shoes.
Tierney plays the role of Johnny Castle, the sexy, rebellious dance instructor who sweeps the sheltered Baby literally and figuratively off her feet in the touring production of Dirty Dancing, which opens Wednesday and runs through April 24 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Swayze originated the role in the 1987 film, which co-starred Jennifer Grey and launched a pop culture touchstone.
“Patrick had a great way of showing his vulnerability and being very, very authentic and geniune,” Tierney says of the movie star, who died in 2009. “Traveling around as Patrick Swayze is a very fun thing. I don’t get intimidated. I see things as a challenge or as something to sink my teeth into. With this show, I felt I was up for the challenge. I saw what he did with the part that made it good, and I’ve seen people take on the role and do it wrong. You just have to be real. You just have to be you.”
Tierney has some experience with facing challenges. In 2010, he fell 30 feet from a ledge on stage while performing as a stunt double during the ill-fated Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. His safety harness wasn’t secured, and he broke three vertebrae and several ribs and fractured his elbow and skull.
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The accident did not dim his enthusiasm for performing.
“I don’t remember the bad things,” he says now. “It doesn’t stick with me. I didn’t suffer anything permanent. I wasn’t paralyzed. I didn’t die. I didn’t lose anything major at all. I was very lucky. And I got to experience what it was like to have a nation of people care for you and send you good positive energy, which is so magical and weird. I found out what I’m like in an extreme moment. I was super calm, highly focused.”
Tierney, who also performed in the first national tour of Movin’ Out and has had parts in such films as Across the Universe and Ricki and the Flash, has been with the touring company for a little more than half a year. He takes the rigorous schedule mostly in stride, although he admits that dancing every night can be tough.
“I’m not a spring chicken anymore,” he says, laughing. “It can be difficult if you don’t feel it, if you can’t feel the words you’re saying.”
His nonperformance schedule on the tour varies. Some days he hits the gym before a show. Some days he sleeps late.
“It depends on whatever city I’m in, what’s around to do,” he says. “When I hit Miami and Fort Lauderdale, I’ll be excited. I’ll be up and awake, and I’ll explore the city. There are some art galleries I want to check out.”
As for Dirty Dancing, he believes its appeal is universal and ongoing (just last Sunday, he spotted three young girls rapt in the second row, a sign that a new generation of fans has been born).
“Everybody’s had a summer romance that was wild and irrational and so fantastic,” he says. “That story still speaks to everybody.”
“Dirty Dancing”: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; $30-$115; www.browardcenter.org