Flashdance the Musical has loads of flash and as much bravura dance as you’d expect from a show that celebrates the art form in its name.
Entertaining and even thrilling when its chiseled, artful dancers are executing director-choreographer Sergio Trujillo’s designed-to-dazzle moves, the production now onstage at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is reversing the usual path for a touring show: This one is beginning on the road and heading toward Broadway in the fall.
Like most in-development musicals, Flashdance has strengths and weaknesses. The former most certainly includes its cast, particularly leading lady Emily Padgett in the role of welder-by-day, dancer-by-night Alex, the star-making part Jennifer Beals played in the 1983 movie. Also on the asset side of the ledger are Trujillo’s demanding choreography and the cinematic production design by Klara Zieglerova (sets), Peter Nigrini (projections) and Howell Binkley (lighting).
The show’s trouble spots are the typical ones for a new musical, namely the book and lyrics.
The script, by Tom Hedley (who had the original idea for Flashdance and co-wrote its screenplay) and Robert Cary, expands on the story of Alex Owens, a small-town girl with big dancing dreams. The musical wisely incorporates some of the signature songs from the movie, including Maniac, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, Manhunt, Gloria and What a Feeling.
But because a stage musical demands that characters dance and sing, composer Robbie Roth and Cary (his co-lyricist) have written more than a dozen new songs for the hybrid score. Yet with a few exceptions, notably the love duet Hang On for Alex and her reimagined boss-boyfriend Nick (Matthew Hydzik), the new numbers just don’t have the punch of the driving, flashy ‘80s originals. Yes, the new lyrics rhyme, but those rhymes are too often uninspired, clunky or cliched.
As for the script, it contains some passages with too much exposition (the exchanges between Padgett’s Alex and JoAnn Cunningham as her mentor, former dancer and teacher Hannah, come to mind), but it doesn’t take the Flashdance story much beyond the face-your-fears theme of the movie. It also contains an anachronistic reference to outsourcing, when Nick is faced with laying off workers at his family’s steel plant, and a too-contemporary comment by Hannah regarding dancers’ contractions and epidural anesthetic. Flashdance is supposed to be happening in the early ‘80s, people.
All that said, if you were to ask theatergoers what they thought about the show’s story, lots of them would probably say, “Story? What story? Who cares?” For them, the dancers’ skills and hotness, plus Trujillo’s inventive choreography, more than compensate for any Flashdance flaws.
Padgett, wide-eyed, charismatic and sporting a wig that makes her look a bit like Beals, has a real presence. Slender and strong, she’s a glorious dancer and terrific singer, and her quiet, determined Alex is easy to root for. Uncooperative equipment or a botched move left her high and dry during the show’s famous shower scene on opening night, but a trouper, she stylishly soldiered on.
Handsome and younger than the movie Nick, Hydzik is an appealing romantic lead with a fine voice. But Hedley and Cary could help him by deepening Nick’s conflict over his future.
The women playing Alex’s dancer pals are the performers most obviously responsible for shifting the focus of Flashdance from its story to its mesmerizing movement. Rachelle Rak, so buff that she could be mistaken for a female body builder, combines power and raw sensuality on I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll. Kelly Felthous makes Gloria into a cute little blonde much like Kristin Chenoweth, so the character’s detour into the seedier world of strip clubs feels even more disturbing. And DeQuina Moore is both funny and, on Manhunt, magnetically fierce.
Those who prefer their musical comedies fully developed and working on all levels may have some problems with Flashdance the musical. But folks looking for what the movie supplied — hotness and romance packaged like a music video — should be happy with what’s onstage in Fort Lauderdale.