I promised myself before seeing the Kennedy Center’s current production of Flashdance: The Musical that I would stay away from any obvious “What a Feeling” puns with the review, but that doesn’t mean I can’t kick out some other ’80s gems to describe this nostalgic treasure-trove of all things ’80s.
“Let’s Dance,” “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and “Longest Time” come immediately to mind. The first two aren’t hard to comprehend; the musical was strong on choreography and the songs oodles of fun, but the last represents the story itself, which took too many paths, following too many characters, and seemed to drag on.
Still, the musical, much like the film, works best when there’s dancing—and luckily, there’s plenty to go around. Whether it’s the energy of a breakdance on the street, or the gracefulness of ballet at the studio, or simply the electric pulsating contemporary movements of the dancing girls, director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo presents one memorable movement after another. There are even some fantastic nods to the film in several of the dances—with step-by-step reenactments of some of the movie’s best moves.
Anyone familiar with the movie knows the story: It follows Alex Owens, a steel working girl by day and a club dancer at night, who harbors aspirations for the big league ballet academy and a career as a professional dancer. Jillian Mueller takes on the role made famous by Jennifer Beals and has a star quality that commands one’s attention. A true triple threat, Mueller excels at dancing, is a knockout singer and despite seeming a little young compared to the rest of the cast in the beginning, brings out the perfect blend of sexiness, sensitivity and rawness needed for Alex.
The stage version caters much more to the romance than the film did with Corey Mach taking on the role of Nick, the wealthy heir to the owners of the steel mill who does his best to win the heart of Alex and prove to her and the workers that he can feel their plight. The chemistry Mach and Mueller share on “Here and Now” is palpable and seeing more time devoted to their courtship—especially if done in song—would be welcomed.
More time spent with Dequina Moore and Allison Ewing as Alex’s dance comrades Kiki and Tess would also be a plus. The two not only deliver some of the best laughs of the evening, but deliver powerful renditions of “Man Hunt” and “I Love Rock & Roll” respectively. Ginna Claire Mason as fellow friend Gloria does well in showing what happens when a dancer takes a darker path, but the way they chose to showcase the song “Gloria”—arguably one of the best woman anthems of our time—was gravely disappointing.
With book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, and music by Robbie Roth, Flashdance: The Musical is chock-full of 16 new songs, but its treasures like “What a Feeling” and “Maniac” that the story interplays with, and they did a much better job evoking the nostalgia for these classics than they did with “Gloria.”
Of those extraneous characters I spoke of earlier, I found little use for David R. Gordon’s Jimmy and songs by his character and Jo Ann Cunningham’s Hannah weren’t needed. This is a show about excitement and electricity, and anytime it tried to give one of the lesser characters their own small subplot, the story came to a grinding halt. It was up to the chorus of dancers to get things moving in the right direction and happily, they brought the energy back every time.
(Highly Recommended for fans of the film)
Flashdance – The Musical
Closes January 19, 2014
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $45 – $150
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Fans of the movie won’t be disappointed. Iconic images such as Alex changing into leg warmers and a sweatshirt with its collar cut off remain, and of course, the dance with the bucket of water is a must-see, but I was disappointed that the infamous lobster scene from the movie couldn’t be worked in, and there’s no mention of a dog at all.
Flashdance: The Musical has been rumored to hit Broadway for a couple of years now, Considering that lesser fare based on movie hits have managed to make their way to the Great White Way in recent years—among them The Wedding Singer, High Fidelity and Xanadu—it’s a wonder that Flashdance has had such a hard time getting a shot. Its soundtrack is timeless with catchy tunes like “What a Feeling,” “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Maniac”; and its story still resonates with many today, maybe even more so the way the economy has been.
Those looking for a feeling of nostalgia will be pleasantly pleased and even younger generations who may not know Jennifer Beals from anything other than Grudge 2 or The L Word will be surprised at how relatable the story of Alex is.
She is after all, just a small town girl on a Saturday night looking for the fight of her life in the real time world, who will soon be dancing like she’s never danced before. If that’s not the plot of a winning musical, I don’t know what is.
Flashdance—The Musical, national tour. Book by Robert Cary and Tom Hedley . Music by Robbie Roth and Lyrics by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth. Directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo . Orchestrations by Doug Besterman . Featuring Jillian Mueller as Alex, Corey Mach as Nick, Alison Ewing as Tess, Ginna Claire Mason as Gloria, DeQuina Moore as Kiki, Jo Ann Cunningham as Hannah, David R. Gordon as Jimmy, Matthew Henerson as Harry, and Christian Whelan in the role of C.C. and Erika Amato, Mackenzie Bell, Carleigh Bettiol, Derek Carley, Ryan Carlson, Lynorris Evans, Haley Hannah, Charlene Hoffman, Jarvis McKinley, Doreen Montavlo, Austin Owen, Katelyn Prominski, Angelo Soriano, Dani Spieler, Lawrence E. Street, Kamille Upshaw, and Blake Zelesnikar . Scenic design: Klara Zielerova . Costume design: Paul Tazewell . Lighting design: Howell Binkley . Projection design: Peter Nigrini . Sound design: John Shivers and David Patridge. Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Keith Loria.
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Elliot Lanes . MDTheatreGuide
Aubrey Liebross . BroadwayWorld
Jane Horwitz . Washingtonian
Kristen Page-Kirby . Washington Post Express
John Harding . DCMetroTheaterArts