BWW Reviews: FLASHDANCE: THE MUSICAL -Plenty of Flash and Dance, But No Heat or Grit, at Hershey
In 1983 the movie FLASHDANCE electrified a nation with the story of a Pittsburgh girl's climb up the ladder of dance from bar to barre. In 2014 the musical version - why do people feel the need to turn perfectly good films into perfectly mediocre-at-best musicals? - fails to electrify anyone particularly. It's on national tour, currently at the Hershey Theatre. Most shows go on tour after hitting Broadway. This one's been touring for a couple of years now waiting for a Broadway opening. Maybe that's a hint. (It certainly was about the recent failed JEKYLL AND HYDE revival, which toured first and fell flat on its face immediately when it opened on Broadway.)
Oh, the dancing's fine. It's better than fine. And "Maniac" and Laura Brannigan's "Gloria" - a guilty musical pleasure for this reviewer - are there, with fully-developed routines performed by some terrific dancers. So is the bit with the water, which naturally had to be in the show. If all you want is the joy of being able to see actual full-body movement for scenes in the film where you only saw angles, and to sing along with early 1980's hits, this is a great show. It's dance-filled, stylish, and full of talented triple-threats.
If you want substance, if you want depth, if you want to appreciate any of the characters besides Alex, Nick - a bit - and Gloria - only slightly... or if you want new songs that you can remember five minutes after hearing them, this is not your show. It adds no new dimension to the movie and loses some of the depth the movie had.
The show is not bad. But it's not great. "Good" is the best this rates, and that depends on what you want out of it. The book, by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, loses depth in order to make room for songs. The lyrics to the songs are by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth, and the music by Robbie Roth, and for the most part, none are memorable or particularly tuneful - worse yet, they're almost entirely expository. Instead of actors being so moved that they must sing to express feeling, they are so moved that they must sing to express upcoming plot that doesn't entirely fit on stage, in order to move things along.
The leads, Sydney Morton as Alex Owens and Corey Mach as Nick Hurley, the steel fortune scion, are attractive, competent actors, and very fine singers. Morton is a terrific dancer. If only they had a better show to be in. Kyra Da Costa, playing Kiki, is amazing in the "Manhunt" routine and is perhaps the best dancer of a good dance lineup - her Alvin Ailey background speaks for itself on stage. She's also a great singer with the Broadway run of DREAMGIRLS under her belt. Madeline Doherty as Hannah, the elderly dance instructor, is delightful and has the best line in the show - she hasn't seen real modern dance since 1935. Hannah's a pistol, and immediately makes herself the most lovable character in the show.
Hannah, though a dancer, ignores the rub, by the way, of the entire plot - of the film as well as of the musical. Is modern dance less worthy than ballet? Is Merce Cunningham or Martha Graham less valuable than George Balanchine? Of course not - yet Alex, who is an excellent dancer, has no dream but for ballet, for which she almost certainly hasn't really started young enough, and we're encouraged to root for her to become a ballerina; why isn't she longing for success in modern dance, which is equally respected and for which she has the basic training? Why do the authors insist on ballet as the only "legitimate" great dance? Her dream is her dream because the story says it is; why the insult to the very thing she could so clearly achieve?
Then there's the muddying of the original story line here. Harry's, where Alex dances, is supposed to be an upright joint with good dancers; the club down the street is a "gentlemen's club" full of strippers. Yet this Harry's, unlike the film's, has its own stripper pole for pole dancing, and the "gentlemen's club" dancers are dressed in a fashion that suggests that the most lurid thing the costume designer has seen is the Victoria's Secret catalogue. Anyone who's been in a strip joint, which the down-the-block bar is, as opposed to the better clubs, knows what's worn, or not, in those establishments - and it's not expensive tasteful lingerie. A bit of research might have been helpful before working out the strip club scenes, which are neither sufficiently erotic, on the one hand, nor sufficiently tawdry, on the other - most productions of CHICAGO do better with their dancers and their costumes and routines. And the "nice" club has gone down a peg or two in its essential decency. Yet there's no heat in anything; rather than being gritty, it's all been sterilized.
The problem of focus in the musical, displayed above. is perhaps exemplified best by Nick's song, "Justice." How does the problem of a rich kid getting shot down in flames by his love interest even come close to equating to the problems his employees face of family members in jail, drugs, and looming job cutbacks? He thinks they're pretty close, and boy, he knows how it feels. No wonder his romance with Alex is so tepid - he's clueless. On the other hand, it isn't any less sterile than anything else here. All the grit of Pittsburgh's been left behind, and a sanitary, emotionless shell's left in its place.
FLASHDANCE is aptly named here - it's flashy, delightfully so, and the dancing is energetic, ebullient, and effective. If you want an evening of dance, this is it. If you can ignore the book's limitations, the sheer mediocrity of the new songs and music, and the evisceration of character development and subplot, it's one hell of a dance show with some ingeniously clever sets and projection. But don't expect it to be anything else.
At Hershey Theatre through May 4. Call 717-534-3405 or visit www.hersheytheatre.com for tickets and information.