'Flashdance: The Musical' falls flat

Weak songs and silly dialogue overcome the story's appeal

mclear@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2013 

We can only hope that "Flashdance: The Musical" is a work in progress.

In its current state, the 5-year-old musical, still in its "pre-Broadway" tour, is dreadful. It takes all the worst elements of the 1983 film that's on almost everybody's list of guilty pleasures and adds a whole lot of really bad songs and the most clichéd dialogue you have ever heard.

Worse yet, in a show that's centered around dancing, the choreography is distressingly unexceptional. Even dances that are lifted almost exactly from the film look limp on stage, where they can't have the advantage of close-up photography, frenetic editing and multiple takes.

It's not uncommon for shows to be extensively revamped during national tours leading up to Broadway runs, and there may be almost unlimited time to revamp this one. Even though this current tour is billed as "pre-Broadway," the show's website doesn't mention anything about an actual Broadway opening. But the show as audiences at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts are seeing it this week wouldn't stand a chance in the big leagues.

There is something to build on. The sets by Klara Zieglerova and the costumes by the great Howell Binkley (the principal costume designer for Parsons Dance Company) are wondrous.

There's also a lot of sexy dancing by gorgeous women in their underwear, and engaging performances by virtually everyone in the cast. Emily Padgett as Alex, the Pittsburgh welder/exotic dancer who longs to be a ballerina, and Matthew Hydzik as Nick, her wealthy boss who's smitten the instant he sees her, both turn in fine performances, and the best musical moments come when they harmonize. Their lovely duet "Here and Now," toward the end of the first act, is by far the best of the dozen or so new songs in the musical.

Most of the other new songs are horrible beyond belief, though. "Maniac," which was one of the worst songs of the 1980s, is not even one of the worst songs in "Flashdance: The Musical." Some of the melodies (by Robbie Roth) are awkward and unoriginal, and most of the lyrics (by Robert Cary and Roth) are uninspired.

There's a strong element of nostalgia in the show and the production. Before the actions starts, images from 1980s' music videos are projected on the curtain, and most of the new music has an '80s feel to it.

But even so, people who see the musical because they're nostalgic for the movie might be disappointed. Except for the major plot points and the two scenes from the film that everyone remembers -- Alex's water dance, which is moved to halfway through the show, and her rock-dance audition for the ballet people at the show's end -- the musical and the movie are pretty different creatures. Characters have been eliminated and implausible subplots have been added.

It retains, however, the film's major flaw: The basic story's familiar and just not all that interesting. Alex faces no serious obstacles in her romance or her aspirations, so it's no big deal when she realizes her ballet dream and finally reconciles with Nick.

In the end, "Flashdance: The Musical" makes us realize that the appeal of the movie was largely due to Jennifer's Beals' enormously attractive onscreen persona and dancing that was truly innovative 30 years ago.

Details: Feb. 19-25, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $44.50 and up. Information: 813-229-7827 or www.strazcenter.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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