Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Cabaret
Thirty years ago, the film Flashdance was a big hit, thanks in no small part to its sexually charged dancing and some hit songs from the movie's soundtrack. The national tour of the musical stage adaptation currently playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati demonstrates that it's still a crowd-pleaser and appealing to the primary theatergoing audience due to its well-known film source. However, the material isn't strong enough to make the show great, despite strong choreography and performances.
This musical generally follows the plot of the 1983 film by the same name, but with some subplot differences. The core story remains that of young woman Alex Owens, a steel mill welder in Pittsburgh during the day, and a club dancer at night. She dreams of becoming a trained performer, but her own self-doubt, stubbornness, and a complicated relationship with her steel mill boss threaten her aspirations.
The book for the stage version is by original co-screenwriter Tom Hedley, as well as Robert Cary. The show has a good heart at its center and, aside from a few groaners, a good deal of effective humor. However, the storytelling is also very choppy, and a lot of time is spent away from the primary characters. There seem to be missing details in the introduction of characters and relationships that would clarify the plot as well.
The score is a mix of existing songs heard in the original movie, along with sixteen new songs featuring music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Roth and book writer Cary. The familiar pop hits "What A Feeling," "Maniac," "Gloria," "Manhunt," and "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" bring nostalgia to the score, but a few of those songs seem shoehorned in and vague in their staging. When three costumed ladies start singing "Maniac" as Alex practices, are they a Greek chorus, a song heard on the radio, or her actual friends performing in her living room? Of the new material, none of the songs are clunkers, but very few rise above mediocre either. The melodic duet "Here and Now" is memorable and catchy, and the opening "Steeltown Sky" suitably introduces the main characters, the setting, and the time period, but most of the other tunes sound like lesser versions of other modern showtunes.
Flashdance is a very heavy dance show, so director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Jersey Boys) and his talents are well used here. The athletic, varied dancing is vibrant and energetic. Mr. Trujillo's direction isn't the most inventive, but the tone and general blocking work for the material and story. Nicholas Williams leads a strong six-piece band.
As Alex, Jillian Mueller nails the spunky and hopeful nature of the character, and dances up a storm in the taxing lead role. Her vocals are sufficient, though not spectacular, and the show is in good hands with Ms. Mueller at its core. Corey Mach (Nick) is likeable and a strong singer, and his chemistry with Ms. Mueller is what it needs to be. There are numerous supporting characters in this musical. Best of among the performers is Ginna Claire Mason (a fun, then tragic Gloria), Jo Ann Cunningham (a wise and funny Hannah), and Dequina Moore and Alison Ewing as Kiki and Tess, Alex's wise-cracking, more experienced dancer friends from the club. The entire hard working ensemble does a very good job of executing the challenging choreography and many scene changes.
The set design by Klara Zieglerova is somewhat industrial, fitting into the 1980s blue collar setting of the steel mill, and uses sliding panels and projections to conjure up the many locales of the story. Paul Tazewell's costumes thankfully capture the time period accurately without going into camp (save a few intentionally cheesy dancer outfits), and Howell Binkley's lighting is fun, apt, and professional as usual.
Good performances and energetic dancing can go a long way in making a musical, especially one based on a popular movie, an entertaining one. But, as is the case with Flashdance, a stronger story and better songs could make such a show so much better.
Flashdance continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through November 10, 2013. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816. For more information on the tour, please visit www.flashdancethemusical.com.-- Scott Cain