Flashdance The Musical

They've made a stage musical version of the movie Flashdance. (You either just squealed with glee or rolled your eyes and felt nauseous.) The 1983 film was a thin, implausible story used to string together a series of music videos a la 1980s MTV. With infectious pop songs, energetic dancing that was somewhere between the street and the strip club, and a few smartly placed oddities that became iconic for the era (her off-the-shoulder shirt became a fashion fad), the movie was a box office success despite a set of dismal reviews. No surprise—it was the '80s.

Well, this is a real musical, and the actors are really singing—and doing their own dancing. Whether seen now as comfy nostalgia or a cheese fest, the film does offer a good basis for a musical. It's an old fashioned musical story: talented but downtrodden heroine pulled up (by her dance shoes) by a well-heeled and good-hearted guy. In this case, the heroine is Alex (Emily Padgett), an 18-year-old welder at a steel mill in Pittsburgh (if that doesn't make you blink, you're gonna love the rest) who is a super though untrained dancer and wants to attend the Shipley Dance Academy. She is helped by her elderly mentor and teacher Hannah (JoAnn Cunningham), who offers encouragement and confidence-building support; and Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik), Hurley Mill heir, who falls Marius-quickly for Alex and offers his love and a cash donation to the school. (In the film, the hero was the 38-year-old owner of the mill, which was a little creepy and on a very different level.) After fifteen songs and one reprise, Alex gets that audition at Shipley by intermission.

Alex also dances at a bar, fully clothed, along with her dance buddies Kiki (DeQuina Moore), Gloria (Kelly Felthous) and Tess (Rachelle Rak). They are reined in by bar owner Harry (Matthew Henerson). The three sidekicks provide a lot of the humor (though most of the jokes in show are about a C+) and sing most of the iconic songs. In an unnecessary subplot, a sleazy strip club manager (Christian Whelan) somehow gets Gloria to believe stripping at his club is the road to being the "next big thing," and she must be rescued by her sweet and funny boyfriend Jimmy (David R. Gordon) and Alex. That's just a diversion to the big, no-surprise ending.

In addition to songs from the film—"Maniac," "I Love Rock and Roll," "Manhunt," "Gloria" and "What a Feeling"—there are more than a dozen songs written for the musical by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary (Cary and Tom Hedley are credited with the book). (The first musical version by the same creative team played in the U.K. in 2008 through 2011; there were reportedly 16 other original songs written for that version, all of which were scrapped.) The new songs have the requisite 1980s feel, fit the characters and the plot and are pleasant sounding (unfortunately, I wasn't able to make out enough of the lyrics to report on them), but there are too many of them. "Justice," performed by Nick and his fellow steelworkers, is a nice Full Montyish guys song, and "Here and Now" sung by Alex, Nick, Gloria, Jimmy and the ensemble works very nicely.

All in all, this is big, fluffy entertainment. Director Sergio Trujillo's pacing is good, the songs and dancing (Trujillo also choreographs, and includes the expected moves seen in the movie) are fun if not revolutionary, and the era of the 1980s is authentically evoked—the musical is set in a non-specified year in the 1980s—without over emphasis. On the down side, the two lead characters as written are rather bland. In the movie, Alex as played by Jennifer Beals was a quirky misfit, with a lack of refinement that was more sensuous than awkward. Here, she is cute, petite and feisty, rather than gritty (Ms. Padgett wears a Beals-y wig). And Nick is outright golly-gee-whiz boring, not to mention too naive to even be in training to rise to the upper ranks of a large company (for example, he gets mad about his father trying to make him lay-off the factory workers he's become friends with—come on, it's 1983 Pittsburgh, everyone is getting laid off and factories are closing). The problem is not Padgett and Hydzik—they perform well, she in particular with the dancing and he in particular with the singing. But the characters have little personality, with no chance for the actors to create any chemistry.

The supporting characters are not written with much more depth, though the performances are good. Maybe "fierce" wouldn't be an adjective used in the '80s, but it sure describes the performances of Moore and Rak now. And Felthous is adorable, and paired well with Gordon, who brings a sweetness to his song, "Where I Belong." The dancing ensemble is quite good, with some nice break-dance solos.

One thing that really pulls this show together is the melding of set design (Klara Zieglerova) and stunning projections (Peter Nigrini) in a number of convincing and vivid interior and exterior Pittsburgh settings. The use of projections has come a long way since I noticed them in Jane Eyre and they provide an opportunity, particularly for touring productions, to be more elaborate with sets than is possible with physical elements. These are the best I've ever seen.

I can't say that Flashdance The Musical goes beyond what the movie was, but as far as stage adaptations of splashy but not particularly complex movies go, it carries the torch just fine. This is the start of the tour of the new version, so changes can be expected. Some trimming wouldn't hurt.

Those for whom the 1980s is a treasured memory will feel the warm and fuzzies; those who found no joy in the film might be happier staying away.

Flashdance The Musical debut tour at Heinz Hall through January 6. For tickets and performance information, visit trustarts.culturaldistrict.org/production/32848/flashdance. For more information on the tour, visit www.flashdancethemusical.com/.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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