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Dancing makes 'Flashdance' worth the price

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 6, 2014

 

WAUKESHA - “Flashdance” was a very popular film in 1983, despite the fact that most critics panned it. Critics do not always reflect popular taste. Twenty-five years later, it was converted into a stage musical and opened in London. At present, it is touring the U.S. and Canada, including in Milwaukee at the Marcus Center for The Performing Arts, and is soon to have a Broadway opening.

This show’s strongest appeal and entertainment value lie in the dancing. It is muscular, angular, strong and visceral. The music has a strong, unrelenting beat, and though compelling, could use a little variety. A few softer ballads would have offered a nice contrast and helped us feel the emotion of the love relationships. But that’s not the fault of the production; it’s the weakness of the writing.

Sydney Morton as Alex is a very strong lead. There are probably not too many leading ladies who are this powerful as both vocalists and dancers. In fact, the whole ensemble of dancers has to be athletic and flexible to meet the demands of these dance numbers. Morton totally holds our attention, and the fact that Alex, a welder, has dreams of being a dancer provides an unexpected twist.

Alison Ewing as Tess and Dequina Moore as Kiki both perform with vigor and pizzazz as the sexy dancers in Harry’s club. Ginna Claire Mason as Gloria is not as impressive a dancer, but her sweetness offers some welcome difference in temperament to the tougher, more seasoned characters. Her rendition of “Remember Me” is memorable.

Corey Mach, who plays Nick, the wealthy new boss at the steel mill where Alex works, has a lovely tenor voice, but there is little appreciable chemistry between him and Morton. Her power diminishes him somehow. In fact, the only time I felt any tenderness in any of the relationships was in the one between Alex and her older friend and mentor Hannah. She was the one, above all, who believed in Alex’s dream of becoming a dancer, and her song about the rigorous life of a dancer, so movingly performed by Madeleine Doherty, was the number that touched me most.

But this is a glitzy show with dramatic scenic changes (Klara Zieglerova) and striking costumes (Paul Tazewell) and vigorous choreography (Jim Abbott and Edgar Godineaux), and  driving music (Doug Besterman), and those are the elements that are most fascinating and engaging.

Whenever the film comes first, comparisons will be made, especially if people loved the stars who played the leading roles. But there are often different requirements for live performers, so comparisons aren’t really fair, but I predict that they will be made, nonetheless. 

The story of someone pursuing a dream is an old one, and one with universal appeal, which is probably why it has been told so many times and in so many different ways, but this show with its robust dancing and powerful beat puts a fresh face on an old theme. Not much substance, too little heartfelt romance, but definitely good entertainment, nonetheless.