What A Feeling!
There’s always been something that little bit special about Flashdance. A runaway movie success in 1983, Flashdance has gone from being one of the quintessential movies of the 1980’s to becoming an integral part of pop culture and cinematic history. Its tale of a beautiful welder by day and burlesque dancer by night, who dreams of being a ballerina, Flashdance has all the heartfelt and feel good you could possibly wish for. Yet with its raw and raunchy look and sound, Flashdance has plenty of grit to go with the glamour, making it simply irresistible, both then and now.
Adapting this iconic film for the stage, with its signature dance routines and much loved songs, was bound to pose a challenge or two. Book, by original screenplay writer, Tom Hedley, along with Robert Cray, addresses these challenges by opening up the story in several places whilst trying to remain faithful to the spirit of the original. In “Flashdance - The Musical” there’s much more space for CC, the sleazy villainous club owner, played beautifully by Matt Concannon, and the hard headed, soft hearted club owner Harry, made delightful by Rikki Chamberlain, to play around in. Similarly the story between former ballerina Hannah, an engaging Carol Ball, and her long suffering nurse Louise, a wonderful Sasha Latoya, opens another hidden depth. Yet where things really open up is in the tale of Gloria and Jimmy, (Jeanie the ice skater, and Ritchie the unfunny comedian in the original movie) which is foregrounded much more, moving them from also rans to supporting cast.
Yet if much is now added in places, much is also taken away, and not all changes work as well as others. Most notably steelworks boss, Nick Hurley, who is aged down and moulded into a privileged playboy and Daddy’s boy with no actual power, and no ex-wife. A move that doesn’t pay off, and something former A1 frontman, Ben Adams, struggles with at times. Indeed, looking too often like an Entertainment Tonight host at a post show party, Adams' boy band looks, moves, and vocals can certainly charm, but can’t always carry the weight needed to be compelling in a musical. In contrast, Joanne Clifton’s now blonde, loud mouthed, Alex Owen, with much more working class, Pittsburgh steel coursing through her veins, is simply sensational. Wisely, the Strictly Come Dancing champion avoids unnecessary comparisons with Jennifer Beals by looking, and sounding, more like Jean Harlow with attitude, with just a hint of Kate McKinnon thrown in for good measure. Feisty and fabulous, Clifton exudes pure star quality across the board. But the mismatch between the cranked up Alex and the down played Nick means the chemistry between Clifton and Adams only ever bubbles, it never really boils. That’s left to an impressive Hollie-Ann Lowe as Gloria, and an equally impressive Colin Kiyani as Jimmy, wonderful as the star struck lovers who had it all if only they knew it.
If Hedley and Cary’s book sees new stories being grafted onto the old with varying degrees of success, music by Robbie Roth, with lyrics by Cary and Roth, suffer much the same fate. Songs ranging from the outstanding Chameleon Girls, to the forgettable My Turn, struggle in comparison with the original soundtrack, some of which features, some songs being curiously excluded. There’s no room for Lady, Lady, Lady, or He’s A Dream. Instead, fringe songs like Laura Brannigan’s Gloria, wedged into place but still managing to justify its inclusion, keep faith with the original movie. Roth’s music also keeps faith with the 1980s, embodying a sound and structure that feels instantly recognisable.
Throughout, choreographer, Matt Cole, ensures dance sequences are often outstanding, for the most part, aside from some group routines looking shaky and unfocused, showing the joins rather than a sense of flow. A wonderful grafting of a slick breakdance, hip hop sequence with some kick ass rock ’n’ roll, sees a show stopping version of Joan Jett’s I Love Rock 'N' Roll providing one of the highlights of the night. Not so a less compelling Manhunt, but no one was ever going to come close to Cynthia Rhodes jaw droppingly brilliant routine. Merging old and new, Clifton superbly negotiates the demands of making the cinematic look good when danced on stage, as well as embodying an endless live energy in her routines, marking her out as a star of the music stage for many years to come.
Some unpardonable mic problems aside, the Flashdance experience is still as joyous, infectious, and uplifting as it ever was. Whether this stage adaptation could stand alone independent of the original songs is certainly up for debate. Thankfully it doesn’t have to and, young or old, lover of the original or coming to it for the first time, “Flashdance - The Musical’s” final medley will have you clapping, singing, and on your feet. Great fun, great dancing, and a great night out: “Flashdance - The Musical,” what a feeling!
“Flashdance - The Musical,” with book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, music by Robbie Roth, and lyrics by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until June 16
For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre