Flashdance, Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury ★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

In the pantheon of 1980s movies, Flashdance has achieved cult status far exceeding its own gaudy ambitions. The tale of a welding apprentice who supplements her meagre wages from a Pittsburgh steel firm by dancing in a local club, but who has ambitions to enrol at the local ballet school, mines every dance movie trope going.

For anyone who remembers the movie, it is probably one of two dance sequences that persist in the memory – a club number in which heroine Alex is showered in water, or her final audition sequence at the school. Both are present in this anodyne stage adaptation, although the former is truncated so much that any sense of spectacle is absent.

If only that were this musical’s only problem. In common with many touring productions of late, the sound levels are such that the musical’s performers struggle to make themselves audible. This is perhaps less important in the familiar pop numbers imported from the movie – including ManiacGloria and the title number Flashdance… What a Feeling. In those cases, the five-piece band led by musical director George Carter recreates the sax and synth-heavy sounds of the early 1980s so effectively that the subsumption of the lyrical line feels like another element of authenticity.

But for the show’s original songs, which are at least nominally there to advance the narrative, the lack of audibility reduces one’s interest and enjoyment substantially. This is despite the sterling efforts of the leads, notably Ben Adams’ factory owner Nick, whose pop background belies a voice that is a welcome addition to musical theatre, and Hollie-Ann Lowe’s Gloria, the supporting character whose subplot is often far more interesting than that of the leads’.

Indeed, the central story of welder Alex is so hackneyed that even the book writer seems to take little interest in it. Any sexual or romantic tension between Joanne Clifton’s character and her boss is glossed over, the story jumping straight from Adams’ interest in his employee to her accompanying him to a formal party on their seventh date. There is little opportunity for Clifton and Adams to demonstrate much chemistry together, at least until an encore after the cast has already taken their bows at the end of Act II.

And without that connection, Clifton’s character makes little impression. While her dance background, both as a competitive ballroom dancer and last year’s Strictly Come Dancing champion, is put to extensive use and her voice is strong, she is not yet the sort of triple threat that Flashdance needs to elevate it. Hannah Chissick’s staid direction fails to elicit much in the way of a believable dramatic performance from Clifton, who plays every line with the sort of wide flourish that may suit the dance floor but works less well on the factory floor.

Matt Cole’s choreography – the aforementioned shower disappointment notwithstanding – is at least evocative of the 1980s period and all the more enjoyable for that. But that means that this musical is a little bit of flash, quite a bit of dance, and little else.

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