Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Flashdance, the Musical...What a Tepid Feeling -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Flashdance: the Musical
New music by Robbie Roth
lyrics by Robbie Roth & Robert Cary
directed & choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru August 18

If you asked me to name my favorite movies of the 1980s, I could likely get to a couple hundred before thinking of Flashdance. I've only seen it once or twice, long ago, and while I have no great disdain, in the category of '80s dance-themed pop music movies with two-syllable F titles, I prefer Footloose.

If you asked me to name my favorite songs of the '80s, I could give an even longer list without including "Flashdance...What a Feeling," "Maniac" or "Gloria," all featured on the 1983 film's soundtrack.

But after having seen the supposedly headed-to-Broadway stage musical of Flashdance, on a national tour stop in Chicago, I assure you I would rather watch the movie--several more times--than sit through that drek again.

And I would rather just listen to the aforementioned songs--also featured on stage, along with "I Love Rock & Roll" and "Manhunt," albeit without equaling the originals--than hear any of the 16 largely forgettable songs newly written for the stage show.

While I almost always appreciate the effort to write a new score than rely solely on jukebox hits, when the fresh tunes make me wish to hear "Maniac" more often, it's probably time for the producers to begin ringing up Lionel Richie, Bananarama and Hall & Oates for rights clearances (for other '80s hits, even if not in the film).

Though my recollection of the movie isn't one of a work of high drama, it's not impossible to imagine a stage rendition achieving kitschy, nostalgic fun for those of us of a certain age. But with the music & lyrics by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary being functional at best--their attempt to stylistically ape '80s sounds doesn't come close to achieving what the composers of Hairspray pulled off with their '60s melange--the plotline feels particularly slight, trite, stale and cheesy.

Director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, whose credits include the terrific Jersey Boys and Next to Normal, puts together a few nice dance routines--including some break dancing per the time period--and Jillian Mueller does a decent job of emulating Jennifer Beals (and her dance double).

But there is no apparent chemistry between Mueller as Alex, a Pittsburgh steel welder, and male lead Matthew Hydzik, who seems rather bland as her boss/boyfriend Nick in the Michael Nouri role.

While the songs taken from the movie melodically outshine those that sound like pale imitations of Billy Joel, Hall & Oates and "Almost Paradise" from Footloose, among other sonic allusions, a few of the "good ones" feel dramatically suspect and shoehorned in as they are sung by minor characters (other performers in the club where Alex flashdances).

Though the scenery is sufficient, somehow the narrative here lacks whatever cohesion the movie provided, thus main plot points such as Alex auditioning for a ballet school, and even more minor ones like the nefarious intent of a competing club owner and Alex's friendship with a wealthy old ex-dancer, push the bounds of credibility, even within the context of pop culture pablum.

And even the story of economic travails among the blue collar sector feels rather hackneyed in light of similar themes that have pervaded much meatier, and better, musicals like Billy Elliot and Kinky Boots.

While in the show's second and final week in Chicago it was nice to see the balcony mostly filled--which will undoubtedly further expand the proliferation of brand-name movies being turned into mediocre stage musicals; e.g. Ghost, Dirty Dancing, 9 to 5, etc., etc.--the crowd on Tuesday night offered polite applause rather than a raucous or standing ovation.

This isn't to say that the efforts of those on-stage and in the orchestra pit didn't merit appreciative applause. Even in a lousy musical, performers who "take their passion and make it happen" deserve strong kudos, with Kelly Felthous being quite worthy of note for a fine turn as Alex's pal Gloria, despite a saccharine storyline.

But if you're sentimental for Flashdance, simply seeing the movie again should provide a much more satisfying flashback than spending time and money on a show that is unlikely to likewise be remembered fondly by many 30 years hence. Or perhaps even two.

Like other recent screen-to-stage Broadway flops--Leap of Faith, Cry-Baby, Bring It On, Catch Me If You Can, High Fidelity, The Wedding Singer and the dreadful aforementioned Ghost--I suspect this one will sell some tickets based on its title but soon prove to be a "flash" in the pan.

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