BWW Reviews: What a Feeling From Hippodrome's FLASHDANCE - THE MUSICAL
When your childhood spanned the 1980s, there was no escaping the allure of Flashdance, of its wrong-side-of-the-tracks-girl-meets-country-club-boy love story and its premise, or perhaps its promise, that breaking into a dance routine could help overcome life's most thorny challenges. You grew up capable of singing, or at the very least humming, the sugar-coated pop anthems that originated with the 1983 film soundtrack. And you wished you looked as great in a cut-off sweatshirt and leg warmers as Jennifer Beals always managed to do.
Now, 30 years (three decades!) later, Flashdance--The Musical is back to remind us of the raw spirit, sparkly promise and (possibly drug-enhanced) energy of that bubble gum-laden, neon-hued era when innocence was much more innocent and people actually believed that dancing could save the world. Except this, the original U.S. national touring production (note that it has not yet made it to Broadway), has toned down the horrific '80s fashion faux pas and added a bit more 21st-century sophistication.
In case you were asleep through that synthesized decade, Flashdance tells the story of a young Pittsburgh steel welder, Alex Owens, who performs at a club (not of the strip variety, mind you, and called Harry's in the stage version) by night because she loves to dance. She catches the eye of her young boss and steel mill owner, Nick Hurley, who will stop at nothing to win her heart, not even pulling one of the many strings that his upper-crust life has afforded him to ensure that Alex gets an audition at the prestigious Shipley Academy, on which she's set her sights in her dream of becoming a professional dancer.
The stage production is fairly true to the movie and equally delightfully cheesy, and it's drizzled here and there with chuckle-worthy one-liners to help move the musical numbers along. But the true value of this live version is the dancing, the glorious, beautiful, sweep-you-off-your feet choreography (developed by director Sergio Trujillo) that is just so flawless and, well, fun that you find--come the end of the second act--that your cheeks are sore from grinning throughout the entire production. And the dancing spans genres quite effortlessly, combining breakdancing with ballet with moonwalking with the sultry, steamy moves of the nightclub ladies (none of it, of course, bordering on anything so risqué that it's no longer teen friendly). What becomes quickly evident--particularly given the washboard abs and the shapely legs that are shown off rather intentionally--is that this cast isn't composed so much of actors (although the acting is fine) or singers (although the singing is decent, especially that of well-cast leads Emily Padgett and Matthew Hydzik) but of athletes, and they are exceptional at their sport.
Some of the production's most memorable moments feature Padgett's expertly executed solo dance numbers, particularly the final scene before intermission, set to the well-known, frantic beats of "Maniac" and involving a reprise, of sorts, of the film's famous water scene. These scenes are helped along by gorgeous, and in many cases clever, costuming (the work of Paul Tazewell) that borrows from the film and from the decade known for excess, complete with jean jackets, short shorts and an overload of neon and metallic. Another favorite scene, "Justice," features the male steel mill workers with boss Nick, discussing their different perceptions of hardship; Hydzik's strong, rich voice stands out from the crowd.
Other scenes are head scratchers. It was unclear what was going on in the first rendition of "Maniac," featuring Harry's ladies Kiki (Dequina Moore), Tess (Rachelle Rak) and Gloria (Kelly Felthous), all superb dancers but with no particular sense of direction in this scene. I became even further confused with the S&M-themed "Manhunt" number, followed by Nick and Alex's post-date "Here and Now" that was lovely, but Alex--who nonetheless spends a good portion of the production in her "underwear"--strips down to nothing but a sweatshirt and undies in front of the fully clad Nick, which comes off as awkward (it was just a first date!).
Despite this--and a few minor opening-night oopses--the production is big, bold and beautiful. And while we all know how it ends, with overcome obstacles and happily ever after set to Irene Cara's pop anthem "What a Feeling," you can't help getting swept up in this love story and in this dancing, which for one night might just save the world.
Flashdance--The Musical runs through Sunday, Feb. 17. The HippodromeTheatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center's next production in its Broadway Series, Looped, runs March 5-17. For more information, visit www.france-merrickpac.com.
Photos by Kyle Froman.