The 1983 film Flashdance is forever etched into the fabric of American pop culture and the psyche of the dance community. Not only did it influence other dance films of the decade, which in turn affected jazz dance, but it brought hip-hop into the mainstream with the famous breakdancing scene featuring the Rock Steady crew.
So what better way to immortalize it 30 years later than by making it into a musical? While yet another film-to-stage adaptation could legitimately cause some groaning, the haters might want to hold off. It’s one of the better ones so far, and Dallas Summer Musicals has it at the Music Hall at Fair Park for a short time.
Turning Flashdance into a stage musical seems like it could be a fairly simple task. After all, the music and dance is already there. The only thing needed is an embellishment to the storyline.
And this is probably what everyone wants to know. Will it be like the movie I grew up watching? Or will it dive off the narrative deep end, like the musical version of Mary Poppins?
It’s a nice mixture of both, but without the weird diving. Since the film clocks in at 95 minutes while the musical runs just over two-and-a-half hours with intermission, writers Tom Hedley and Robert Cary have a decent amount of material to furnish to get the show up to “musical length.” Luckily, since the original screenplay is a bit paltry to begin with, there is no shortage of moments to enrich, which means that only a minimal amount of new material needs to be added.
So, we still have this steel-town girl Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller) who is up for the fight of her life. Although her day job as a welder and her night job as an exotic dancer keep her pretty busy, this fiery go-getter has higher aspirations of getting into a premiere ballet school. Helping her reach her goal are Hannah (Jo Ann Cunningham), a retired dancer who acts as a benefactor and mentor, her closest friend Gloria (Kelly Felthous), and her fellow dancers Kiki (DeQuina Moore) and Tess (Katie Webber). And let’s not forget her boss-turned-boyfriend, Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik).
The essence of each character remains mostly the same, with the exception of Nick. This is where the new material comes in, as well as some much-needed character development. Instead of playing the older, down-to-business steel mill boss preying on a younger employee, Hydzik does a fantastic job as the younger, boy-next-door type. While he carries the company name, he’s not the head boss, which makes him a little more approachable (especially to the other steelworkers in the manly musical number “Justice”) and more sympathetic.
A new subplot weaves itself through Alex’s journey to go for her dreams despite the obstacles. When the other executives at the steel company start making cuts, Nick finds himself in his own battle to overcome his fears and fight for what he believes in. It seems somewhat efficient, in that some of the duets sung by the main characters fit their respective situations.
Alex’s story and character remain mostly the same, but she gets a little facelift. In the film, Jennifer Beals portrays her as a soft-spoken giggly schoolgirl who occasionally has a temper tantrum. Mueller takes the grittiness that drove her to work at a steel plant and infuses that through the entire character. She’s a curly-haired firecracker who maintains a tomboyish edge throughout the show, even in her club dance numbers.
Fans of the film will find some satisfaction with many of the original songs such as “What a Feeling,” “Maniac,” “Manhunt” and others. Robbie Roth and Robert Cary provide 16 original songs, including a knockout of a love ballad with “Here and Now.” Hydzik’s voice could make a girl melt, and while Mueller’s singing sometimes feels forced in an effort to be gutsy and bold, she manages to belt out some applause-inducing notes. Moore practically steals the show in the finger-snappin’ “Put It On”.
And in saving the best for last, what would this musical be without some extraordinary dancing? Director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo maintains the spirit of 80s-style dancing with the energy and some signature moves of the era, while adding some originality. The ensemble for the most part does pretty well, with a few exceptions. Some of the ballet sequences aren’t as precise, and the breakdancing could use some work. Jacob Karr (SYTYCD season six runner-up) shines in any genre.
Even though Mueller is expected to be a pretty good dancer (can’t hide behind body doubles on stage), she still throws out some surprises as she moves through different dance styles. Will she do the famous water scene? You’ll have to see it to find out.