Touring – reviewed at Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
It’s more than 30 years since the world fell in love with Jennifer Beals’ bad-ass welder turned dancer, Alex Owens, in the iconic dance movie Flashdance. The stage adaptation, Flashdance The Musical, now touring the UK, has a lot to live up to. It pulled into Aylesbury on Monday and its first night at the Waterside Theatre was well received by fans.
The extended standing ovation allowed the cast, headed by Strictly winner Joanne Clifton and A1 heartthrob and singer, Ben Adams, to bust a few athletic moves and reprise the show’s key tunes. As a dance show, it is fabulous thanks to a superb ensemble and choreographer Matt Cole’s innovative use of a range of dance styles.
We get to see Clifton go above and beyond anything she has ever been asked to do as a ballroom dancer and she has all the right moves – whether it’s high energy hip-hop, street dance or jazz dancing. Adams is sadly wasted and doesn’t have a lot to do but what he has he makes the most of. He has a lot of stage charisma but this isn’t the vehicle to showcase his talents as an actor.
The production is also woefully let down by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary’s clichéd and clunky book, Hannah Chissick’s uninspiring direction, and Monday’s atrocious sound, which seemed to affect Joanne Clifton more than others. The result is that the dramatic scenes are formulaic and wooden with the show only coming alive during the dance sequences.
It’s an absurd idea for a plot anyway but we go along with it because we all like a bit of feelgood fantasy and musical whimsy – and Flashdance has some great numbers.Set in the blue-collar industrial town of Pittsburgh no-nonsense, tough-talking Alex Owens works as a welder in a steel mill and spends her nights gyrating and shaking her booty as an exotic dancer in Harry’s, a down-at-heel bar.
She dreams of winning a place at the prestigious Shipley Academy and becoming a professional dancer but she’s daunted and intimidated by its reputation. Has she got what it takes to be accepted?
Worse, she finds herself attracted to the mill-owner’s son, Nick (Adams), who is getting work experience by managing the beleaguered family business.
Set against a backdrop of economic hardship we see Alex strive for a better life and forging an uneasy relationship with the handsome Nick.
She’s one tough cookie and that robs the musical of any on-stage chemistry with Adams whose Nick is portrayed as a traditional romantic hero.
Gloria, What A Feeling and Maniac are the big standout numbers with Clifton undergoing a drenching during the latter – but you do have to ask yourself why?
It is an iconic moment from the original movie but its only purpose in the story seems to be to given Owens a wet leotard moment which I’m sure the guys in the audience fully appreciate.
Flashdance is a musical for the MTV generation. It is totally lacking in any substance but, visually, it looks great. I got quite misty-eyed revisiting all those neon legwarmers and leotards, permed hair and shell suits from the decade that style forgot.
But the plot could be told in five minutes and the rest is unnecessary padding. There’s nothing original in this very derivative story.
Clifton continues to go from strength to strength as a dancer but she still needs to hone her skills as an actress. She delivers her lines so quickly that, on opening night, coupled with the broad accent, it was impossible to understand much what she was saying.
I wasn’t a great fan of the lighting or set design. The spotlights bathed the stage in a half-light for most of the production while the cast spend as much time pushing parts of the cumbersome set around as they do performing.