By Richard Ades
“She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor/And she’s dancing like she never danced before…”
Read those lyrics the wrong way, and the fantasy at the heart of Flashdance becomes apparent. Steelworker-by-day/dancer-by-night Alex longs to be accepted into a prestigious ballet academy, but she has no formal training. So how can she hope to win out against dancers who’ve been hitting the barre since they were kids?
The 1983 movie distracted attention from that glaring question by overwhelming us with montages of toned bodies dancing to a rocking soundtrack. It also captured the tenor of the times by setting Alex’s quest against the backdrop of a dying industry: We could relate to her struggle to redefine herself because so many of us were trying to find a way to survive in a changing economy.
Then, of course, there was cinematic newcomer Jennifer Beals and her portrayal of Alex as a tough Pittsburgh girl who could switch from wistful dreamer to sexual predator at the drop of a leg warmer.
So the movie became a hit, and Alex and her wardrobe became cultural icons. Can the new Tom Hedley/Robert Cary/Robbie Roth stage version repeat the magic?
After seeing the touring show Tuesday night at the Palace, I suspect it has a long way to go.
Director/choreographer Trujillo and his cast reimagine some of the movie’s best moments and add some of their own. Overall, though, it fails to make us care about Alex’s journey.
Part of the problem is the role of Alex, which must be almost impossible to cast. Besides acting and singing, the leading lady must be able to dance well enough to convince us she has a shot at a career in ballet. In the touring production, it’s apparent that Jillian Mueller was cast primarily for her dancing skills. Her moves are fine, but her singing voice lacks power and she has little stage presence.
It’s admirable that the producers didn’t follow the movie’s tack and have Alex’s dance moves performed by a body double (though it appears they do just that in one scene, for no apparent reason). But because they failed to find the rare individual who can act, sing and dance like a maniac, Alex mostly disappears into Klara Zieglerova’s serviceable but generic scenery. As a result, few sparks are generated by the central romance between Alex and her smitten boss, Nick, even though Corey Mach gives the latter a likable personality and sonorous voice.
Filling some of that void, Ginna Claire Mason and David R. Gordon do make us care about the rocky relationship between Alex’s dancer friend Gloria and would-be comedian Jimmy. We particularly care about Gloria, whose naïve search for fame makes her susceptible to the advances of C.C. (Christian Whelan), proprietor of the disreputable dance club down the street. Her crestfallen rendition of Gloria is one of the more effective holdovers from the movie.
Back at the raunchy but relatively wholesome club run by the fatherly Harry (Matthew Henerson), Alex spends her nights sharing the stage with Tess and Kiki, seasoned hoofers well played by Alison Ewing and DeQuina Moore. Moore is especially fiery in the energetically choreographed Manhunt, another movie holdover.
Not all of the show’s songs are inherited from the movie, by the way. Of the new tunes, some are pretty, and some are even catchy, but none matches the toe-tapping power of the originals.
Will Flashdance make it to New York? If it does, it will accomplish a major miracle, as it’s not easy to construct a conventional stage musical out of a movie that was basically an extended music video. The show reportedly has been tweaked quite a bit to get this far, and it likely will need a lot more tweaking to get to Broadway.
Broadway in Columbus and CAPA will present Flashdance: The Musical through Dec. 22 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $28-$78. 614-469-0939, 1-800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.