Based on the 1983 hit film of the same name, the musical has been adapted for the stage by Robert Cary and the original screenplay writer Tom Hedley. But whilst the film zips along at a rate of knots, this stage adaptation feels laboured and the overlong running time serves to emphasise shortcomings in the weak plot and poor characterisations.
The principal storyline is of steel mill worker/exotic dancer Alex Owens (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) who dreams of securing a place at a prestigious dance school. Meanwhile her love interest Nick Hurley, nephew of the steel mill owner, strives hard to rescue inevitable job losses and prove his worth to Alex.
Nick’s valiant efforts at the mill go unrewarded but Alex meets with success and achieves her dream. Subplots involve Alex’s friend Gloria, who is poached by a local strip joint with promises of a glittering career only to be subjected to emotional and physical abuse, and also washed-up Jimmy, Alex’s childhood friend and Gloria’s cousin, whose increasingly desperate actions form the catalyst for the climax of the story. Unfortunately however these key strands are badly written and both plots limp to disappointing conclusions.
Whilst it’s refreshing to see a musical with a mostly original score, it’s also a shame that Robbie Roth’s songs are so instantly forgettable. This is not helped by the fact that Roth and Cary’s lyrics are, at times, corny to the point of laughable. So much so that the familiarity of the finale - in which the audience is treated to the classic song from the film “What a Feeling!” - comes as a real relief.
However, rising from the ashes of this messy material and giving the show the much needed quality it requires are the performers. The slick ensemble dancing is a credit to choreographer Arlene Phillips and the energy levels that she inspires throughout the evening are second to none.
Hamilton-Barritt is a bright new star in the making who dances brilliantly, acts well and has a belting voice. Noel Sullivan isn’t the greatest of actors but makes a reasonable attempt at Nick and there is no questioning the quality of his singing. Bernie Nolan does well in the underwritten role as Alex’s mom, Hannah. As Gloria, Ruthie Stevens is fantastic and deserving of much stronger vocal material. Bruno Langley also fares well as Jimmy, particularly when he has the chance to showcase his fine voice in the second act.
The small orchestra under the direction of Dave Rose sound excellent and never drown out the singing, although the volume is noticeably, and annoyingly higher during the dance-only sequences. Also excellent is Paul Farnsworth’s rusty set, which makes effective use of sliding panels to enable slick scene changes and also a bridge to break up the square box design required to facilitate the dancing.
Despite its shortcomings Flashdance is a reasonably fun night out and if you are after a high-concept, no-brainer package, then this might just be the show for you.
- Malcolm Wallace