BWW Reviews: Exuberant Cast Brings FLASHDANCE to Life on Stage
Regardless of the show, an evening at the Orpheum Theatre Memphis makes me feel like I've really been somewhere! Their 2013-2014 kickoff was no exception. As always, the moment I crossed the threshold, stepped into the palatial 1890 opera house and saw the 80's-style photo booth in the lobby, all worries from the outside world vanished and I was ready to take a theatrical journey--in this case, to Pittsburgh circa 1983 for Flashdance.
After Paramount released the original movie, (Can you believe it's been thirty years?) millions of American girls, (along with me) were so taken by Jennifer Beals' performance that we took to wearing ripped sweatshirts, leg warmers and moussed up curls. The movie had the natural "bones" of a stage musical--well-defined characters, a strong conflict and lots of dancing. Yet by the same token, the film version of this Cinderella story is so iconic and definitive, I wondered how Tom-Hedley co-writer of the original and co-bookwriter for this adaptation) and Robert Cary would go about re-telling it.
The succinct answer: With a great deal of momentum!
From the frenetic montage of vintage MTV icons projected on a scrim before the opening number till the final curtain falls, the show doesn't stop moving. In addition to the familiar hits, "Manhunt," "Maniac," "Gloria" "I Love Rock & Roll," and "What a Feeling," Robbie Roth (lyrics and music) and Robert Cary (lyrics) have added sixteen new tunes. Needless to say, the stage version has far more dance. The premise is essentially the same: Sexy young female steelworker Alex (Jillian Mueller) moonlights onstage at a Gentleman's Club, dreams of getting into the prestigious Shipley dance academy and unwittingly captures the heart of steel mill heir, Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik).
The familiar/predictable story plays out entertainingly thanks to the tireless cast's solid, tour-de-force level performance on an array of innovative, visually beautiful sets by Klara Zieglerova (scenic designer ), Howell Binkley (lighting designer) and Peter Nigrini (projection designer). Although this stage version replicated visual moments in the movie (most notably the famous shower dance) none of the scenes quite matched the level of impact of the screen version.
Still, overall, it was wonderfully warm and enjoyable. Alex, (Jillian Miller) was played with an enigmatic spunk that gave her a sharp, contrasting charisma to the stable, sensitive, strong Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik). This made for terrific stage chemistry. Every supporting character (and there were many of them) inhabited their role in a way that made me care about them. Harry's girls, Tess (Haley Hannah), Kiki (Dequina Moore) and Gloria (Dani Spieler) were sexy, sassy and exciting. Gloria's boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon) was charming in his naivetee. Club owners, kind Harry (Matthew Henerson) and vile CC (Christian Whelan) were a believable study in contrasts. Former ballet master Hannah, (Jo Ann Cunningham) and her nurse's aide, Louise, (Doreen Montalvo) were touching. Shipley's intimidating Miss Wilde (Ariela Morgenstern) and Ryan Carlson's breakdancing were phenomal.