ORLANDO — “Flashdance The Musical” feels like something of a time warp. It’s a modern Broadway hit now on tour, visiting Orlando in late 2013, but it’s based on a 1983 movie and goes out of its way to remind patrons of that era, in terms of music, clothing and lingo.
But it also seems at times like something out of the 1930s, when early Hollywood gave us movies like “Stage Door,” about young women who think they have talent and dream of leaving their bland small town to find fame on Broadway as a singer and dancer.
The difference is that back then, the women were usually portrayed as sweet or perky, while Alex Owens, the young woman in “Flashdance” who works in a steel mill by day while pursuing dreams of being a great dancer, is independent, smart and spunky, who doesn’t let any man push her around. The portrayal of women in the 1980s has held up much better than what the movies gave us in the Great Depression era.
At first glance, “Flashdance” might seem like an odd choice for a screen-to-stage adaptation, since it’s paper-thin story was essentially an excuse for glitzy cinematography and the kind of imaginative dance moves that the late Bob Fosse reveled in.
As it turns out, “Flashdance” is a surprisingly good option for the stage. With those hit songs from the 1980s like “Maniac,” “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” and “What a Feeling” to propel the action, “Flashdance The Musical” becomes a highly engaging and irresistible tribute to artistic dreams and ambitions – a theme Hollywood and Broadway have nurtured for decades. If you’re only willing to believe in yourself, the musical suggests, you never know how high you’re going to soar.
Set in Pittsburgh, Alex works at the local steel mill, where one of the company’s chief executives, Nick Hurley, becomes attracted to her, although Alex has no interest in dating the top brass. Her dreams are to become a dancer, and she does find a venue for those skills – although it’s at a gentleman’s club where she erotically glides around a pole. No one said it would be easy.
But Alex also dreams of getting into a prestigious dance academy – although she wonders if she has the talent for something that ambitious. That’s when Nick decides to intervene, offering the academy a generous donation if they’ll give Alex an audition. But is that the kind of “favor” that might backfire, since it means Alex isn’t being offered a chance based on talent …. and what kind of strings come with that special assistance?
Anyone who has ever nursed the hope of doing something more creative than the hum-drum job they find themselves stuck in should instantly relate to “Flashdance,” and Alex makes for an thoroughly likeable hero, one who keeps picking herself up and dusting off the dirt every time life kicks her to the ground. But what really makes “Flashdance” enjoyable, of course, are the songs – and the high-energy choreography that comes with it.
Some of the most entertaining scenes are set inside the dance academy, where Alex prepares to rehearse as she watches more experienced dancers perform traditional ballet moves. Contrast those scenes with the ones set in the nightclubs, and you can easily see the point this show is making, that dancing by the 1980s had become something radically different from what we’d expect through a seasonal run of “The Nutcracker.” Partly erotic, and certainly done at a considerably faster pace than ballet, the jump between an imaginative pole dance and a festive Broadway musical isn’t such a big leap after all.
By the end of the play, when a clearly nervous Alex is about to start her audition and stumbles at the very beginning, then asks if she can start over, it’s tough to resist the exhilarating feel of those final moments. This is, after all, a play about how any average, ordinary person can excel if they try hard enough at nurturing their talent.
Both Jillian Mueller as Alex and Corey Mach as Nick are terrific in their roles, as actors, singers and dancers, though Mueller’s dance skills are particularly thrilling to watch. DeQuina Moore, as Alex’s smart-mouthed friend Kiki, and Erika Amato, as the prim and stuffy head of the dance academy Miss Wilde, who isn’t above a little financial persuasion for an audition, are glorious scene-stealers.
“Flashdance The Musical” has its final performances at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in downtown Orlando today. Although the musical and its themes have nothing to do with the holidays, the upbeat, feel-good nature of the show makes it seem ideal for the season.
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