Touring with “Dirty Dancing” brings Mark Elliot Wilson’s career full circle

Performing in the touring production of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage just seems natural for actor Mark Elliot Wilson.

Wilson plays Dr. Jacob Houseman, the stern-yet-loving father of lead character Frances, aka "Baby.” It’s a role he's occupied since Dirty Dancing’s national tour launched in September 2014. The show will begin a six-day run at the Stranahan Theater on Tuesday, December 1.

However, Wilson's career has had ties to the classic 1987 film well before he began performing in the production. He saw Dirty Dancing when the film was first released, after he’d worked with Max Cantor, the actor who played the role of the villainous Robbie in the film. As Wilson's career blossomed, he was given the chance to work with another notable actor from the movie.

"It was great to see the guy who played my role, Jerry Orbach— who played Detective Brisco in Law and Order— I loved him right away," Wilson said. "Every time I got to shoot an episode of Law and Order I was lucky enough to get to work with Jerry. So, it just sort of [came] full circle."

Love of acting

Born in San Diego and raised in Oregon, Wilson's passion for theater was spurred, he admits, by young love.

"I met a British girl when I was in college, after I got out of the service. She was going back to England to go to drama school, so I followed her. I needed something to do when I was there, so I auditioned for the school and I got in."

Wilson has worked consistently on stage and screen for the better part of three decades, with roles in films like World Trade Center (2006) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) on his resume. He began his current gig through a role in a production of Robin Hood, where a casting director saw him perform and suggested he audition for Dirty Dancing’s staged production.

"I just sort of back-doored it," Wilson said with a laugh.

Surviving ‘the wars’

Wilson cheerfully admits he really can't sing or dance— not that it is a problem for the role of Dr. Houseman, one of the few characters in Dirty Dancing who does neither. He said he genuinely values the camaraderie built with his fellow cast members, though, as with any tour, there is naturally a great deal of turnover, with actors joining and leaving on a regular basis.

"We've had major cast changes every six months or so, either through injury, illness or moving on to another project, so there's a handful of us that have been through 'the wars,' as it were," Wilson said. "I just feel like it's always fresh, because we have new people coming in all the time."

Wilson noted that he hopes he and his fellow cast members can bring that same fresh feeling to Toledo audiences, whether they're experiencing the story of Baby and Johnny for the first time— or the fiftieth.

"I think it's the same thing that makes 'Romeo and Juliet' popular— a love story between two opposite-sides-of-the-track kids," Wilson said of the show's enduring popularity. "'As long as there are two kids falling in love that parents don't approve of, there's going to be an audience for this kind of story."

7:30pm Tuesday, December 1-Thursday, December 3, 8pm Friday, December 4, 2pm & 8pm Saturday, December 5, 2pm & 7:30pm Sunday, December 6. | Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. | 419-381-8851 | stranahantheater.org