Book: Tom Hedley and Robert Cary
Music: Robbie Roth
Lyrics: Robert Cary and Robbie Roth
Director: Hannah Chiswick
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
The 1983 movie Flashdance was not a musical as such – the musical numbers were self-contained music videos, enabling the film to get much promotion via the then relatively new phenomenon of MTV, spawning such 1980s classics as Irene Cara’s rendition of Flashdance … What A Feeling and Maniac. In 2008, a stage musical adaptation opened in Plymouth; this tour is based on the later, 2013, Stockholm version. While the show takes its inspiration from the film, it isn’t a slavish, shot-by-shot recreation of it but seeks to be its own creature.
The main story is centred on young apprentice welder Alexandra (Alex) Owens. She dances at Harry’s Bar and dreams of attending the prestigious Shipley Academy to study dance. However, there are numerous sub-plots involving the mill and Harry’s Bar, where Alex dances, being under threat and romantic entanglements failing, as is tradition, to run smooth.
The whole adds up to a first half that is visually impressive: the elements of the multi-level industrially-inspired set seem to have an infinite variety of permutations as the dance set-pieces – reminiscent of those 1980s dance-inspired music videos – are performed. However, the book is somewhat pedestrian as it seeks to introduce all the characters and their subplots leading to confusion in the minds of the audience. It does come together somewhat after the interval, even if some of the subplots, powerful as they could be (for example, the very dark story of how fellow dancer Gloria is tempted away from Harry’s Bar by rival club owner CC and how he manipulates and controls her) are perhaps too quickly dealt with. As a consequence, the characterisations lack nuance and prevent us from really emotionally investing in their stories.
In the central rôle as Alex is Joanne Clifton: perhaps best known for her turns as one of Strictly Come Dancing’s professional dancers, Clifton is also making a name for herself in musical theatre. As well as her dance talents, she has a sweet and powerful singing voice and is able to belt a song out with the best of them. Alex’s boss and love interest is brought to us by Ben Adams, lead singer of boy band a1. They work well together onstage although diction is occasionally slurred a touch making lyrics harder to pick up. The other romantic pairing comprises Jimmy (Colin Kiyani) and Gloria (Hollie-Ann Lowe). Jimmy wants to make it big as a stand-up, being prevented only by a lack of talent – a problem not shared by Kiyani who has a great voice that delivers some of the most powerful moments in the show, for example in the song Where We Belong and its reprise with Lowe. Lowe does a decent job of portraying a dancer with limited talent lured away by CC’s promise of stardom.
Light relief is provided by Alex’s aunt and mentor, Hannah (Carol Ball) and her secretary/companion, Louise (Sasha Latoya): their understated wordplay works well.
If you’re a member of Generation MTV, you’ll love the banging 1980s soundtrack, the spectacular visuals and set pieces, but overall, Flashdance the Musical tries to do too much – neither storylines nor characters are able to develop – to be totally satisfying.
Runs Until 8 September 2018 and on tour | Image: Brian Hartley