BWW Reviews: PPAC Flashes Back to the '80s with Touring FLASHDANCE: THE MUSICAL
When adapting movies into Broadway musicals, it certainly helps to start with a movie that revolves around singing and dancing. Or, at least, a movie that includes some kind of singing or dancing as a major part of the story or plot. That way, adding more singing and dancing shoul have a solid, logical starting point. It would seem, then, that the movie Flashdance is a perfect choice. It's right there in the title. The whole movie revolves around...wait for it...dance! Unfortunately, the Broadway touring production that is visiting PPAC takes a promising start and turns it into a long, bloated and mostly boring slog through two hours at the theater.
In 1983, Flashdance became a hit film and a cultural phenomenon. It was the kind of movie that became part of the zeitgeist, with iconic scenes, songs and moments that lived on in our collective imaginations forever. For those unfamiliar, the movie, and musical, revolve around the life of Alex Owens, a young woman living in Pittsburgh who works in a steel mill but dreams of making it big as a dancer. Although she currently works at a semi-seedy dance club, she aspires to enter a prestigious dance academy, from which she hopes her dreams will take flight.
A number of popular hit songs came out of the movie as well, including "Maniac," "Gloria," "Manhunt,' and "Flashdance - What a Feeling." These songs do appear in the musical, in all of their toe-tapping, get-stuck-in-your-head-forever glory. One of the show's problems, though, is that those tunes are joined by sixteen brand new songs written just for the musical. That's a lot of songs, which is the first problem. Not helping things is the fact that most of them, the vast majority of the show, takes place in Act One. By the time the audience gets to Act Two, they are either bored, exhausted or both.
Here's the other problem with the music: almost every single song is about exactly the same thing. This isn't a show with a lot of subtext or subplots. It's very simple, clean and straightforward, which is fine. There's nothing wrong with sticking to one central theme or storyline. But in this show, there are numerous songs, one right after another, with lyrics that just restate what has already been sung before. Be true to yourself. Don't give up. Keep fighting. Be yourself. Follow your dreams. Find yourself. These are the themes, which basically mean the same exact thing, that dominate almost every one of the songs, most of which are not particularly memorable.
In an unfortunate turn of events, both of the lead actors were sick on press night and understudies took to the stage to play the two main characters. This may have magnified the show's faults, although that's impossible to say for sure. As Alex Owens,understudy Haley Hannah, a talented enough singer and actress, showcased a lovely voice and an ability to carry the acting requirements. On the other hand, she just wasn't up to the task when it came to the all-important dancing. She always seemed just a second or two behind and sometimes seemed to be dancing in slow-motion. Her moves lacked any kind of natural passion or vitality, the kind of innate electricity, even fire, that you just can't learn, you have to be born with it. It was more like a cheerleading routine than emotion-driven dance.
Playing Nick Hurley, Alex's boss and love interest, was understudy Derek Carley, who also did not acquit himself well. While he seemed like a fine young actor, his voice was not up to the vocal requirements, especially when he was asked to hit the high notes. Making matters worse, his versoin of Nick came across as little more than a wussy, a whining rich kid throwing a temper tantrum. He just didn't have much, if any, maturity or strength that was at all believable. The show doesn't give him much to work with, truthfully, as he's little more than a spoiled rich kid trying to do the right thing. The show almost revels in the fact that he's nothing but a cliche. Still, the actor took that little bit to work with and didn't add much of anything to it
Some of the ensemble, on the other hand, were quite fantastic. Dequina Moore and Alison Ewing played Kiki and Tess, two of Alex's friends and co-workers at the dance club. Between them, they had the majority of the shows best moments. When Moore performs "Manhunt," which was kind of a silly number, she managed to sell the heck out of it, making it fun and entertaining. Equally impressive was Ewing's performance of "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," one of the highlights of the show in both singing and dancing. Additionally, they both had a number of excellent comic moments which were pulled off perfectly.
Madeleine Doherty and Erika Amato turned in fine performances as Hannah and Miss Wilde, respectively. Steve Greenstein was also a lot of fun as Harry, the owner of the club where Alex dances. The rest of the ensemble was pretty interchangeable and/or forgettable. Some of them, though, were incredible dancers, from break dancers to ballerinas, and at times the show really belonged to them. It's a wonder why they didn't make the understudy for Alex somebody who could really pull of the dancing first and foremost, since that's arguably the most important part of her story.
The touring company rolled in an impressive set that was both siple and effective, with lots of metal to represent the steel city. While Pittsburgh plays a pivotal role in the story, I'm told by my friend who accoompained me to the show that the city itself was more of an actual character in the movie than in the musical. A valid point, as the city existed in this production as more of a backdrop than anything else. It was also a brigher, more colorful version of the city than the one in the movie, which was more dreary and depressing, according to my theatergoing companion.
As a whole, the musical eschews the bleak or dreary aspects of the movie in favor of a bright, vibrant, cheerful and even silly tone for the story. It is undeniabaly and unashamedly cheesy, proud to proclaim that it's little more than an homage to an equally cheesy and predictable movie from the 1980s. It's commendable that this show knows what it is and doesn't try to be anything else. It doesn't try to take itself too seriously and tries to have a lot of fun while being entertaining and telling an uplifting story. The problem is that it just doesn't do a very good job of it.
Flashdance: The Musical will play Tuesday, March 25 through Sunday, March 30 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Ticket prices range from $77 to $40 and are availabe at the PPAC box office (220 Weybosset Street in downtown Providence), by visiting www.ppacri.org, or by calling 401-421-ARTS (2787).