The producers of “Flashdance the Musical” have “postponed” their plans to bring the show to Broadway this summer. The new tuner, based on the Adrian Lyne-helmed pic, opened in January in Pittsburgh, and after a few months on the road it’s now playing Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Hall. What a feeling you get that this is one long, very well-deserved postponement.
The 1983 film, about a young female welder who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, came wrapped in a feminist mystique. Alex was not only the girl with ambition who toughed it out in a man’s steel-factory, the film itself was championed by movie trailblazer Dawn Steel at Paramount Pictures who said she identified with Alex’s struggles. Steel definitely knew how to sell a movie. But calling “Flashdance” feminist is like calling “Pretty Woman” feminist because the Julia Roberts character has a job. Under Lyne’s direction, “Flashdance” cleverly posited its message of liberation amongst a lot of soft-core stripper dance sequences.
“Flashdance the Musical” does the same thing, but the female performers here come off more angry than sexy. There’s also some weird double standard that Sergio Trujillo’s direction never resolves: The famous wet-costume routine that Alex (Jillian Mueller) performs at Harry’s club is somehow OK, while the routines at the Chameleon club are treated as next-door to porn. In the movie, the women in the latter establishment performed topless, which, as connoisseurs of gentlemen’s clubs well know, is so much lower-class and demeaning than dancing when doused with water. But “Flashdance the Musical” is — or was — a Broadway-bound tuner, meaning the dancers at the Chameleon don’t show all. In fact, they’re pretty much costumed like the dancers at Harry’s except that their hair is teased into a split-end nightmare. Yes, they’re clearly bad girls — so bad that they entertain us with no fewer than three numbers.
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The book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary unwisely pads Hedley and Joe Eszterhas’ screenplay. Alex’s love interest, factory-owner Nick Hurley (a fine voiced Matthew Hydzik), doesn’t just pay the ballet school to secure an audition for his girlfriend, he also now tries to prevent layoffs at the steel mill. And Alex’s wheelchair-bound dance mentor, Hannah (Jo Ann Cunningham), is now accompanied by an uppity black nurse (Thursday Farrar). Poor Hannah. She suffers from sassy help, stiff joints and memories of dancing with Martha Graham. “I practically needed an epidural!” she says of her erstwhile contractions.
Hedley and Cary’s book spares no one. Nick asks Alex, “Paris Vogue? You speak French?”
“Yeah,” she replies. “Douche.”
The book also softens Alex. In the film, she’s a real hot head who occasionally stalks her boyfriend and throws a rock through his bedroom window. Rather than perform an overt act of violence, Mueller instead sings with a voice that sounds like an air hammer run on helium.
Moviegoers and MTV watchers will know the hit songs “Manhunt,” “Maniac” and “What a Feeling.” Robbie Roth has written 16 other tunes, and the duet “Here and Now” is a keeper. But his and Cary’s lyrics simply try to make rhymes by linking cliches like “the world at your beck and call” and “in a league of my own.”
Of course, Alex makes it to her big audition at the ballet school. This is supposed to be her Cassie/”A Chorus Line” moment, but Mueller isn’t much of a dancer and Trujillo steals whatever thunder she has by bringing other dancers on to the stage for her solo. Somehow it doesn’t mess up Alex’s chances, and the ballet school accepts her. We never learn if Nick didn’t also pay for that.