The ’80s were unquestionably the age of the great dancing movies. You had Footloose, Dirty Dancing and, of course, Flashdance. You can easily remember these because Footloose is the one with Kevin Bacon, Dirty Dancing is the one with Patrick Swayze and Flashdance is the one with the bucket of water. Seriously, every time I tried to describe the plot of this movie-turned-musical to someone, I ended up with a jumbled mess of “it’s about a welder who’s also a stripper but who wants to become a ballet dancer…you know, the one where she sits on the chair and dumps the bucket of water on herself?” “Oh that one!” It turns out I was partly wrong: Flash dancing is not the same as stripping, it’s an expressive form of jazz dance with its roots in the 1920s. It also does happen to involve skimpy costumes, however.
The musical adaptation is almost exactly what you would expect it to be based on the movie. And I say that as a compliment: it’s faithful to the film’s gritty Pittsburgh setting, its big hair and legwarmers and its street-influenced dance style. It also includes a romance with Nick, the really really ridiculously good looking grandson of the owner of the steel mill where Alex, the feisty woman who dreams of being a dancer, works. This gives lots of opportunities for power ballad duets, which I personally enjoy. You’ll also hear several famous numbers from the movie, including “Maniac” and “What a Feeling!” However, my favorite song from the movie is “Manhunt,” which is reinterpreted here as a crazy cool BDSM number with a lot of Grace Jones influence. It’s a neat interpretation which makes full use of the fun costume design, the neat projected scenery that’s used throughout the production, and also a hunting bow. I don’t know, but it was neat.
Often in musicals which focus on dancers, you wind up with weak singers. That is decidedly not the case with Flashdance. To a person, these were some of the strongest voices I’ve heard in a Broadway show in some time. And this song is equally demanding on its singers as it is on its dancers; the part of Nick is especially challenging in its range, but it’s all pulled off with great aplomb. The dancing itself is impressive, athletic and very true to the (slightly ridiculous) moonwalking style of the original.
While the overarching story is the kind of “believe in your dreams, take risks!” sort of thing that’s stock and trade in our culture, there’s actually a really interesting thread about knowing your limitations and accepting them. Jimmy wants to be a comedian in New York City; his girlfriend Gloria wants to be in music videos. Unfortunately, neither of them are very good at what they want to do. Jimmy bombs in New York City and Gloria winds up in a strip club where she’s fed drugs and given money pretty much just for standing there naked (yeah, her story’s a lot sadder). In the end, they both come back to Pittsburgh and start a new life together with Jimmy hoping to become assistant manager of his uncle’s club. It’s a small sideline and not one explored with much depth, but you know, not everyone can be good at what they love. I adore singing, but even with lessons and years of work, I only ever attained mediocrity at best. And that’s okay! Sometimes it’s okay for a passion to be a hobby and for a job to be a job. Not everyone can or should “take their passion and make it happen.” It’s simply a different and, to some extent slightly subversive, message than the one we normally hear.
Flashdance is a big, brightly staged and fun kickoff to Broadway Indy’s 2013-2014 season. The show will be in town through October 6 at Clowes Memorial Hall. Tickets start at $28, which is a pretty fantastic deal.
My tickets were provided courtesy Broadway Across America Indianapolis. I was asked to tweet about my experiences, but all opinions are my own. I received no other compensation.