BWW Reviews: FLASHDANCE -- THE MUSICAL Has Plenty to Enjoy, but Something is Missing
In 1983, before there were flash mobs or flash drives, there was FLASHDANCE, featuring Jennifer Beals, not to be confused with Jennifer Grey, who starred with the late Patrick Swayze five years later in DIRTY DANCING. FLASHDANCE, whose title number, "Flashdance ... What a Feeling," won an Oscar for best song, told the story of Alexandra (Alex) Owens, a Pittsburgh steel worker who dreams of chucking her gritty, tough life to pursue a careet in ballet. She seems to have the talent, but what about the nerve? The original FLASHDANCE, despite giving us "What a Feeling" and "Maniac," and incorporating the 1982 Laura Branigan hit "Gloria," was a story with dancing and music - not a musical. And Jennifer Beals had lots of help with her gravity-defying moves in the person of uncredited dance double Marine Jahan.
A generation after the iconic motion picture, FLASHDANCE - THE MUSICAL is touring the country prior to a hoped-for landing on Broadway. FLASHDANCE - THE MUSICAL features a book by Tom Hedley (co-writer of the original screenplay) and Robert Cary, with direction and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (JERSEY BOYS, MEMPHIS). The score retains the biggest hit songs from the movie, including "Flashdance - What a Feeling," "Maniac," "Gloria," "Manhunt," and "I Love Rock & Roll." In addition, Robbie Roth (music and lyrics) and Cary (lyrics) have written sixteen new songs for the stage production.
FLASHDANCE - THE MUSICAL opened at the Kennedy Center this week. Originally advertised for the Opera House, the production is actually playing in the Eisenhower Theater. Fortunately, the show does not seem to suffer from the change - the imaginative sets by Klara Zieglerova (scenic design), with liberal use of
projections (designed by Peter Nigrini), accommodate themselves to the smaller venue. The sets seem designed to project a feeling of claustrophia that demonstrates the characters' sense of being hemmed in by their humdrum lives in Pittsburgh. This effect may not have worked as successfully in the more expansive Opera House.
Visually, the production is stunning. Sparks fly (literally) in the opening scene in the steel mill as the welders engage in their work. The lighting (by Howell Binkley) and the dance costumes (designed by Paul Tazewell) - not to mention the water scene, lifted from the motion picture - provide welcome relief from the depressing story about people without opportunity trapped in what was then a dying city.
Jillian Mueller has the rock voice, the dance moves, and the charisma to pull off the role of Alex. She is backed by an able supporting cast, with one exception: Corey Mach, who plays Nick (the young member of the mill's founding family who falls for Alex), strains to hit his notes. His voice timbre seems better suited to a more traditional musical role, such as Raoul in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or Marius in LES MISERABLES. Mach plays Nick as a vanilla blob with so little going for him that it is hard to imagine a happily-ever-after with a strong woman such as Alex.
The story itself, although engaging, has a significant number of holes, including leaving unanswered the question whether Nick develops the backbone to refuse to fire a group of workers because he honestly believes that letting them go is wrong or because he wants to impress Alex. The "Justice" number, a colloquy between the rich scion of the company owners and the threatened workers, could have been a show-stopper, but instead comes across as too cute and forced.