Theater review: ‘Flashdance’ is Strongest When it Struts its Stuff

Flashdance 1The national touring cast of Flashdance the Musical appears to be dancing for their lives from beginning to end on Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall stage. It’s enjoyable to watch such moments of high energy, skill and grace.

There’s plenty of good singing from Emily Padgett (Alex) and her fellow performers as well. Songs like “Maniac,” “Manhunt,” “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Gloria” and “What a Feeling” get their vocal due.

Flashdance 5If there’s something that keeps Flashdance – which started in the UK and after revisions is headed for Broadway this August – from being as enjoyable as the Reagan-Era Cinderella story we first saw in the 1983 film it’s the padded storyline we get in this version. Tom Hedley wrote the original screenplay with Joe Eszterhas and returned to pen the book for this show with Robert Cary that sports 16 new songs with music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Roth and Cary.

That critic-panned but audience-favored film ran 95 minutes, or about a half-hour less than its theatrical incarnation; there’s a good reason for that, since the story is a slender romantic fantasy. Remember that this tale centers on an 18-year-old female who is (a) already a welder at a steel mill and (b) only now planning to take up ballet; despite its setting and characters this tale isn’t concerned with realism. The longer it goes the more we realize that.

Flashdance 6So, is there a reason to check out this overstuffed musical? The actors/dancers/singers certainly make the most of the material. Padgett is terrific on all counts, shining whether she’s belting a tune or getting doused with water in homage to the chair dance that’s the Flashdance calling card. Matthew Hydzik gets the thankless job of fleshing out a largely one-note, good-hearted rich-boy character as her love interest Nick, but he has a fine voice and positive presence.

One of the changes from the film is that figure skating is out (which certainly makes sense from a staging POV); we now have a would-be video dancer in Gloria, played with impeccable skill by Kelly Felthous. David R. Gordon does a nice job as her bumbling boyfriend Jimmy; there’s good supporting work from DeQuina Moore, Rachelle Rak, Jo Ann Cunningham, Matthew Henerson and Christian Whelan as well as the rest of a very talented company.

Flashdance 2With direction and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, Memphis) one expects lively movement through blocking and dance and gets it; the Flashdance orchestra conducted by Nate Patten certainly provides top-notch accompaniment. Paul Tazewell’s costumes, Cookie Jordan’s makeup and Charles LaPointe’s wig and hair designs certainly take us back to the days of leg warmers and stone-washed jeans; Klara Zieglerova’s scenic design – along with Peter Nigrini’s projections and Howell Binkley’s lights – provide a terrific theatrical take on the great city of Pittsburgh.

For all the good creative and technical elements, though, Flashdance the Musical could use some paring by the folks that have brought it to the stage. Without going into mind-numbing specifics, we don’t need to explore Alex, Nick and others in great depth. We just need the feeling.

The HCA/TriStar Health Broadway at TPAC presentation of Flashdance the Musical continues through Sunday, March 24 at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall (500 Deaderick St.). Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Today and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets (which start at $15) on sale at www.tpac.org, by phone at (615) 782-4040 or at TPAC’s Box Office. Group orders of 10 or more may be placed by calling (615) 782-4060. For more information on the national tour visit www.facebook.com/flashdancemusical or www.flashdancethemusical.com.

 

*Photos by Kyle Froman courtesy TPAC and Flashdance the Musical.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).