Legwarmers are Back with 'Flashdance the Musical'

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Flashdance the musical By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
At first glance, the choice to turn the hit 1983 film "Flashdance" into a Broadway musical seems natural. With so many Hollywood products being musically adapted in the hopes of luring an audience to an already familiar and beloved story, picking one that not only has the word "dance" in its title, but contains at least two iconic dance scenes as well, must have felt almost serendipitous to its producers. The resulting work, "Flashdance the Musical" (playing at the Keller Auditorium through April 28), is an odd mix of schmaltz and heart. It captures little of what's memorable about the film's tone, yet navigates an emotional journey, between huge jazz hand-y chorus numbers, that's often rich and moving. The show opens with the familiar image of Alex, the play's heroine, welding. An overture then leads her, along with the audience, through the dancing influences in her life, including the then-emergent hip-hop, and the more refined ballet to which she aspires. Just as quickly, we're back at the steel mill, where the crew sings a rock-ish choral number about having to make a living. While the subject matter seems gritty, the staging does not, which can feel confusing. Alex, for instance, is defensive and quick tongued, particularly toward steel mill heir Nick Hurley, who begins wooing her after his first day there. But when big dance numbers start, she flashes a giant crowd-pleasing smile. This tonal oddity seems to be the result of a strangely conceived adaptation, and not any fault of Jillian Mueller (Alex) or Matthew Hydzik (Nick), both of whom were excellent. Mueller is a great dancer and her performance felt genuine, even as the script took led her here and there emotionally. Hydzik is quite charming as a dogged, self-deprecating suitor, and moving in the play's darker second half, when mill politics force him into difficult economic choices. The play portrays class issues in an unflinching, if somewhat black and white way. Mill workers are generally unhappy, and the one we meet, besides Alex, is in danger of losing the job that only barely supports him and his family. Nick, conversely, wields his influence repeatedly, his family's wealth and status serving as a kind of passkey in all situations. Welding, however, is only Alex's day job. At night she dances at Harry's, a cabaret club -- not to be confused with the infinitely sleazier strip club, Chameleon, down the road. Performing offers Alex and her friend Hannah, the funny, Kristin Chenowith-esque, Kelly Felthous, a chance for self-expression and a connection to their dreams of fulfillment and recognition. For Alex, the dream means attending a prestigious dance conservatory. Hannah, meanwhile, longs for pop stardom. A third character, Jimmy, Hannah's boyfriend, aspires to be a big time comedian in New York. It's the path each of the three take in pursuing their goals, the results they encounter, and their responses that give the story its not inconsiderable resonance. Audiences will be waiting to hear "Maniac" and "What a Feeling" -- I know I was -- but it might be Alex and Nick's duet "Here and Now" or Jimmy's "Where I Belong" that they remember. The score itself is a mix of the soundtrack classics, new songs like the ones I mentioned, and '80s hits like "I Love Rock and Roll" and "Gloria." "Maniac" appears twice in the first act, and each time is sung by Alex's friends, as she performs. Each scene recreates an iconic moment from the film -- Alex dancing vigorously in leg warmers and a leotard in front of a mirror, Alex dancing in water at the club before dousing herself with a bucket -- and while each feels less sensual and immediate than they do in the original, both strike undeniable pop culture pleasure points in the brain. While the show has its drawbacks, its high points are memorable enough that you root for it, like you do for Alex and her friends. "Flashdance the Musical" at the Keller Auditorium through April 28.  BlogTail_LeelaGinelle new