Story: Alexandra “Alex” Owens works by day in a Pittsburgh steel mill. At night she feeds her dream by performing exotic dances at a local bar. Alex yearns to be a ballerina, but her limited resources and poor childhood have kept her thus far from pursuing that ambition.
Nevertheless, she learns about an upcoming audition at the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and is determined to seek out her opportunity. Her friends and sister dancers Gloria, Tess and Kiki encourage her, as does Nick, the love-smitten grandson and heir of the Hurley steel mill. Can Alex beat the social and economic odds and realize her dream?
Highlights: Based on the 1983 movie that was a surprise hit and the 3rd-highest grossing film of the year, Flashdance the Musical incorporates much of the look and feel of that energetic flick that capitalized on the popularity of music videos and the MTV cable network that debuted just two years earlier. The musical version actually premiered in England in 2008, but prior to a scheduled August 2013 opening on Broadway this touring version is playing across the country. St. Louis is the second stop on the tour, which began New Year’s Day in Pittsburgh, naturally.
An energetic cast handles the explosive and athletic choreography developed for the show by its director, Sergio Trujillo, dancing that is the true star of the musical version. Most effective are ensemble numbers that feature the incredible, fluid motions of Ryan Carlson, break dancing his way through sundry numbers in a workout suit and baseball cap while sweating nary a drop. You have to see him to believe him.
Other Info: For inexplicable reasons, several of the songs that were featured in the film, including Gloria and even What a Feeling, are shortened in the musical version. This seems strikingly odd, since there are just a few numbers that carry over from the movie, including Manhunt, Maniac and I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll. Gloria in particular is given ludicrously short shrift, quite bizarre considering that many in the target audience for a musical version of the movie would seemingly be people who loved the soundtrack.
This makes the hokey, silly book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary (the former co-wrote the screenplay) all the more glaring. Truthfully, though, many of the faster tunes in this stage version, with music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Cary and Roth, are highly entertaining, as are some of the ballads in the overly long (90 minutes) first act of the two-and-a-half hour show.
Emily Padgett makes for a convincing Alex, as she shows skills both in dancing and acting out the strained script. Matthew Hydzik is fine as her love interest, Nick, doing what he can with the dialogue he’s given but also demonstrating his pleasant singing voice. Rachelle Rak is sensational as Alex’s older exotic colleague Tess, lithely moving to the pulsating sounds of the score, and DeQuina Moore is funny and effective as her pal Kiki.
Kelly Felthous is convincing as Alex’s vapid best friend Gloria, who descends into drugs and decadence when she leaves the safety of venerable businessman Harry’s establishment for the allure of the slick and tempting C.C.’s strip bar, where her hopes for a career in Hollywood veer tragically. David Gordon is her wannabe comic boyfriend Jimmy, Harry’s exasperating nephew, while the roles of Harry and C.C. are satisfactorily played by Matthew Henerson and Christian Whelan, respectively.
JoAnn Cunningham is way too young to convincingly etch the role of Alex’s aged mentor, Hannah, and Thursday Farrar is Hannah’s wise-cracking caregiver. There’s also nice work by Dan Kohler as Alex’s financially strained apprentice pal Andy and Lawrence Street as the shop’s foreman and company conscience Joe, who challenges Nick to resist his grandfather’s decision to downsize.
There are plenty of references to the Steel City’s skyline and namesake industry in set designer Klara Zieglerova’s series of backdrop panels, aided by Peter Nigrini’s projections and strikingly illuminated by Howell Binkley’s lighting design. Paul Tazewell’s skimpy costumes reveal plenty of the dancers’ sexy bodies.
Jason Howland oversees the musical supervision and arrangements. He and Trujillo might reconsider the decision to truncate the movie’s signature tunes prior to that Broadway opening. As it is, Flashdance the Musical offers plenty of pulsating, vibrant moments, enough to offset the disappointments.
Musical: Flashdance the Musical
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street
Dates: Through January 13
Tickets: $22-$92; contact 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kyle Froman