Thursday, August 8, 2013

'Flashdance" nearly makes a splash

Jillian Mueller (as Alex Owens) in an iconic moment from "Flashdance: The Musical"
Cross-posted from

1983's "Flashdance" was what passed for a movie musical in the 1980's. It was a series of quick-cut, frantic music videos stretched around a simple (and implausible) plot involving an 18 year-old steel welder by day and stripper by night who dreams of attending a prestigious dance academy far beyond both gritty factories and stripper poles. Though critically lambasted (the late Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert has it on his "most hated" films list), it went on to earn more than $148 million world-wide and spawned a slew of top 10 hits including "Flashdance...What a Feeling," "Maniac" and "Gloria."

And now, much like 1980s movie musicals such as "Footloose" and "Urban Cowboy," the 30 year-old film "Flashdance" is being prepped for new life as a Broadway musical.

Where's a good arc welder when you need one? The bones of a decent musical are present, but some cutting and soldering are needed if the show hopes to fair better on the Great White Way than those two other shows.

Let's say you are able to suspend disbelief over the original film's plot. At its core, "Flashdance" isn't a bad idea for a stage musical. A plucky, working class gal Alex Owens (an endearing yet still ‘edgy” Jillian Mueller) dreams of reaching for that brass ring, overcoming the systems of class, education, economics and gender.

Her love interest is Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik , a charming, boy-next-door type), the grandson of the owner of the factory where Alex works. The pair share decent chemistry, initially clashing before falling in love. The two romantic scenes in the show come off awkward,though. Mueller is a relatively petite actress and is nearly on pointe any time she has to kiss her much taller leading man.

A trio of Alex’s fellow cabaret dancers Gloria (a Madonna-esque Kelly Felthous), Kiki (Dequina Moore channeling Grace Jones) and Tess (Haley Hannah) serve as a sort of Greek chorus, lending their pipes to most of the more well-known songs from the film. Each is given an individual moment in the spotlight with a solo number, too. Moore’s version of “Manhunt” sizzles enough that you just might forget the original. Hannah gyrates and does her best to breathe life into the over-used “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Felthous, who has perhaps the second best voice in the cast (behind Moore) draws the short end of the straw with a terrible ensemble arrangement of “Gloria.”

“Gloria” notwithstanding, the score soars when recreating the hit songs from the film soundtrack, but the 16 songs representing the new music and lyrics by Robbie Roth (with additional lyrics by Robert Cary), while succeeding in capturing the saccharine nothingness of many a ‘80s pop ballad, are nonetheless instantly forgettable thanks to some truly clunky and forced rhyming.

Director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo ("The Jersey Boys" and "Memphis") manages to both pay homage to the film’s original choreography and put his own signature onto things. The ensemble dance numbers in particular are energetic and mesmerizing. The film’s iconic water scene even feels fresh and new.

With some song editing and re-writing, “Flashdance” might just yet leave audiences saying “oh, what a feeling.”   
"Flashdance: The Musical" through Aug 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. Tickets, $18-$85. Call (800) 775-2000.

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