BWW Review: FLASHDANCE THE MUSICAL, New Wimbledon Theatre
There's a New York / New Jersey / Pittsburgh 80s street vibe in London right now. In the West End, The Toxic Avenger is green and gooey; at the Barbican, the high priest of 80s urban art, Jean-Michel Basquiat, is the subject of a major exhibition; and at New Wimbledon Theatre, Flashdance is back, with its washboard abs, gritty welding and dead end jobs.
Last things first - you get a lot of the biggest crowdpleaser "What A Feeling" (and that's just in the curtain-calls) and "Maniac" and "Gloria" and "I Love Rock and Roll", but this is no jukebox musical, though its roots in the hit movie do show in its somewhat episodic structure.
There are plenty more very decent songs too, sung well by an energetic cast led by Strictly Come Dancing champion-turned-star of musical theatre, Joanne Clifton (Alex) and ex-A1 singer, smouldering Ben Adams (Nick). The music, provided by the on-stage but hidden band, is also rockishly loud, though not dialled up to eleven to drown out the voices.
But Tom Hedley and Robert Cary's book plods when it should be doing that crazy fast-footed iconic "Maniac" stuff. There simply isn't enough narrative energy to keep the balloon in the air - the romance between working-class, feisty Alex and posh boy with a heart, Nick, progresses as expected, as does Alex's dream of making it to Dance School.
Things work out for Gloria and Jimmy too, but all the charm of Hollie-Ann Lowe and Colin Kiyani can't disguise the rather depressing lesson that neither should have tried to escape their humdrum lives because the outside world is full of bad things and cleverer/nastier people. That said, I really enjoyed Carol Ball's turn as the ageing hoofer Hannah, mentor to Alex and (at least in Act Two) a bit of a gentle send-up of Liza Minnelli.
Okay, enough poking at holes - we weren't promised Billy Elliott, after all. An almost full house on a Tuesday evening (once they actually got to their seats and sat down IF YOU PLEASE) loved the spectacle, the familiarity of the hit songs and the stars giving their all on stage.
Sometimes standing ovations can feel a little forced at press nights (okay, almost always feel a little forced), but the audience had been itching to get up and dance a little, and that's what they did once they got the chance - and they really appreciated the intensity of the performances witnessed.
Ask them what they thought of it, and they might say -
"What a feeling
I can have it all
Now I'm dancing for my life"
Photo - Brain Hartley