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February 14, 2013

'Flashdance -- The Musical' has flash, dance, little substance

Somewhere, a halfway decent adaptation of the 1983 hit movie “Flashdance” is fighting to break away from the amiable, strongly performed mess of a show that has arrived at the Hippodrome. Instead, we get an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink mishmash.

It’s partly a traditional musical, with at least the thread of a plot — a woman who welds by day but would rather dance — and new songs that advance the storyline, more or less.

It’s partly a jukebox musical, with emphasis on the vintage songs that helped make the film so popular.

It also wants to be just a big old dance celebration, with kinetic routines breaking out at the drop of a cliche.

As the show bumps and grinds across the stage, it seems, above all, to have been created for those with short attention spans. Things never settle down long enough to allow for such silly little things as character development or dramatic tension.

You would think that with such a strong, recent example of how a need-to-dance movie can make a good stage musical — see “Billy Elliot” — someone might have wanted to give “Flashdance” a few layers thicker than the loose sweatshirt the lead character wears.

The flimsy premise of this tale could use some filling out and suspense — anything to pump up the journey made by Alex, the mill worker with the hankering for ballet lessons.

“Flashdance,” with a book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, is content to stay on the same superficial level of the original source material.

This would have been a good time to try out some fresh dialogue, for a start.

And lyrics? Oh, my. Alfred Tennyson must be chuckling in his grave at this howler: “It’s better to leap and fall than never leap at all.” (Robert Roth wrote the music and shares credit for the lyrics with Robert Cary.)

I wonder if a campier course might have been more fun, given how brilliant, in its own crazy way, the stage adaptation of another dance-filled movie, "Xanadu," turned out. Oh well.

"Flashdance," expertly directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, may rely too much on nostalgia. The expected scenes from the film are recreated, though in a curiously dutiful fashion.

When the lithe and spirited Emily Padgett, who stars as Alex, removes a bra without lifting her sweat shirt, or gyrates while being doused with water, just like Jennifer Beals did in the film, it feels like she is merely following a to-do list.

There’s nothing remotely sexy about that bra business — Matthew Hydzik, as Alex’s boss-turned-boyfriend, Nick, looks like he’s watching the nightly news.

And the water number, used to bring down the Act 1 curtain, certainly looks fabulous (Klara Zieglerova’s scenic design and Howell Binkley’s lighting deliver plenty of sizzle throughout the production), but the whole thing is over in a splash. It feels tacked on, just a sop to the fans of the movie.

Superficiality does have its place in the theater world, of course, and there’s a certain guilty-pleasure element about this glossy vehicle, which tries so hard to entertain. (I still wouldn’t count too heavily on the show’s success if it ever makes it to Broadway — the Baltimore visit is part of a pre-New York national tour.)

In addition to the fluent stagecraft, the level of performing is high. Padgett manages to look fresh at the end of the two and a half hour musical, despite one frenetic dance after another (the choreography devised for her could use a bit more of the aesthetic and bit less of the athletic). She sings sturdily as well. If she can’t quite give Alex depth, she manages to give her some personality.

Hydzik glides smoothly through the role of Nick and, especially in the calmer numbers, proves to be a confident, stylish singer. He’s especially effective blending with Padgett in “Here and Now,” one of the more appealing songs in the score.

Not content to focus on one character’s journey toward artistic fulfillment, the show spends a little too much time with others. There’s Alex’s dancing buddy Gloria (a perky Kelly Felthous), who ends up in a sleazy club. And Gloria’s boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon), whose boy-meets-dream, boy-loses-dream, boy-gets-song progression proves only mildly diverting.

JoAnn Cunningham, as Alex’s wise old muse, Hannah, makes a valiant effort to give the character some depth, but she isn’t helped by the writers.

Supporting players make a considerable effort to spice things up. The ensemble of dancers/singers moves through its paces in polished form. But they would be better served by a few really grand production numbers, rather than an assortment of brief routines that often don’t have enough time to get off the ground.

On the plus side, “Flashdance” does deliver in the closing moments, when Alex finally gets her audition for the stuffy academy and the strains of “What a Felling” start to fill the house. There really is bit of a thrill at that point, but it’s just a little late.

The production runs through Sunday.

Photo by Kyle Froman

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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