Flashdance the Musical Is the Best Dallas Summer Musical of the Year
According to the creators of the Broadway-bound (eventually) stage musical, what the 95-minute 1983 movie version of Flashdance lacked was 16 more musical numbers — on top of the soundtrack's period cheese-rock "Maniac," "Gloria," "Manhunt" and "What a Feeling" — and another hour or so of dialogue and dancing. They're almost right. Flashdance the Musical improves on much of what made the Adrian Lyne-directed movie such a workout for the wince muscles. As 1980s flicks-turned-musicals go, this one's pretty good. Not great. But it's the best Dallas Summer Musicals has trucked in so far this year.
Now playing at the Music Hall at Fair Park, the big show's national tour features two strong leads in Jillian Mueller as feisty Alex Owens, the Pittsburgh tomboy who toils as a steel mill welder by day and a G-rated stripper by night, and Matthew Hydzik as Nick Hurley, the mill scion who feels sparks fly with Alex. Mueller, hair wound into springy '80s perm curls, is a helluva singer and dancer, and the show works her like a two-dollar mule. One minute she's belting her heart out all alone onstage for the obligatory "wish song" called "Just Out of Reach" (as in, her dream of studying ballet), and two minutes later she's leaping and spinning in dazzling steps by Jersey Boys choreographer Sergio Trujillo (who also directed this show).
Mueller's in almost every scene, carrying the two-and-a-half-hour musical on her boundless energy. When she arches her back in that chair and pulls the ripcord releasing the splashy waterworks in the first-act closer, the straight-from-the-movie strip-club number "Maniac," it must come as a relief. (Also, it's really Mueller doing all her own dancing. The movie's hoofer, you may or may not recall, was Marine Jahan, doubling for a non-dancing Jennifer Beals — a dirty secret Lyne tried to hide from the media at the time.)
Hydzik certainly does more with the role of Nick than the wooden Michael Nouri did in the film. For the musical, which has been substantially revamped since its London run a few years ago, book writers Tom Hedley and Robert Cary let Nick be younger, more vulnerable and less of a sexist jerk. Looks- and voice-wise, Hydzik might remind you of Glee's Matthew Morrison. He has that handsome blandness and vocal heft that make him right for roles like Tony in West Side Story (which he played on Broadway last year) and Kenickie in Grease (which he's also done).
In their soaring duet, "Here and Now," Mueller and Hydzik heat up the chemistry. That's the best of the score's original songs by composer Robbie Roth, who co-wrote lyrics with Cary. Too many of their other numbers repeat the same banal "I wanna fly" and "this is my moment" sentiments that could have been borrowed from similarly sappy songs in too many other movie-to-musical adaptations and every finale of American Idol. There are five reprises too many sprinkled through both acts.
The supporting players in this production are bold and beautiful. As Alex's fellow ecdysiasts at Harry's, the "clean" strip joint where she dances, ripply-muscled Dequina Moore and Katie Webber sizzle in the backstage reverse-strip number "Put It On." Playing Gloria, the dumb-bunny strip-chick who dreams of music video stardom, Kelly Felthous is daffy fun, though she often comes across in her songs, as another critic put it, "like a coked-out Kristin Chenoweth."
Too bad they leave it to Felthous' character to push the show's weakest scenes. The subplot about Gloria's humiliating descent into pole-dancing in a G-string at the Chameleon lounge (which doesn't look that bad, really) goes on too long. And her B-plot romance with dopey stand-up comic Jimmy (David R. Gordon) just prolongs the misery. His nicely sung solo, "Where I Belong" (a title so cliché it could have been lifted from The Little Mermaid or The Lion King), serves mainly to provide costume-changing time for the Alex and Nick characters.
It wouldn't be Flashdance without some of the movie's memorable details and the show works in a lot of them. Alex sweats it up in her massive how-could-she-afford-that loft (replicated on the impressive scenic design by Klara Zieglerova, who also designed the similarly industrial-swanky Jersey Boys). Alex does the fast little piston steps in her leg warmers and black boy-short panties. And she fist-pumps and struts through "What a Feeling." She also stumbles and starts over in the final scene at the ballet academy audition, which is duplicated almost step-by-step for the musical, but then cluttered toward the end by a chorus of dancers just as it gets good.
What keeps Flashdance the Musical from jete-ing to greater heights is its humorless script. If only there were some witty, self-referential digs at the foolish fashion trends of the 1980s to remind us how bad the movie's influence was at the time. (It gets close when Alex casually removes her bra through the sleeves of her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. Remember that bit?) The musical Xanadu, which skewers its super-lame movie inspiration, does that aren't-we-campy thing divinely. So does 9 to 5 and the new Showgirls stage show. But Flashdance plays it too straight, with only some brief glimpses of the glowering images of Grace Jones, Madonna and Debbie Harry to remind us whence it came.
Some of the dialogue starts to make those wince muscles twitch. Like when Nick asks Alex, "Paris Vogue? You speak French?" And she replies, "Yeah. Douche."
Pull the ripcord and wash that one away.
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