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Not feeling it

'Flashdance: The Musical' at PPAC
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 26, 2014

0328_Theater_flash_top.jpg 
UPLIFTING Sydney Morton [whose role was performed by her understudy Hannah on opening night].

How strange that it took 25 years for the hit 1983 film Flashdance to be adapted into a stage musical, in 2008. Jump cuts and close-ups wouldn’t be possible in the adaptation, but a story about an aspiring, strong-minded young woman — with athletic dancing accompanying the songs, no less — sounds like a natural.

After a couple of delays in heading to Broadway, where a new arrival date still hasn’t been set, the Flashdance: The Musical tour is at the Providence Performing Arts Center (through March 30).

The book is by Tom Hedley, who co-authored the screenplay with Joe Eszterhas, and Robert Cary, who penned the lyrics with Robbie Roth, who wrote the music. Choreography and direction is by Sergio Trujillo.

Unfortunately, the show is still a work-in-progress, although there are enjoyable moments. Occasionally dance cameos spotlight talent, with a graceful ballerina here, an impressive breakdancer there. The ensemble dance numbers are exciting, an important accomplishment considering that the film’s popularity depended on the visual thrill of music videos, which started appearing only two years earlier on MTV.

In addition to the film’s tunes — most memorably “Flashdance. . . What a Feeling,” which won an Oscar for Best Song, and “Maniac” — 16 new ones have been added. Besides the above, several are familiar today, such as “Gloria” and “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll”; others deserve to be, such as “Justice” and “Manhunt.”

We’re rooting for Alexandra Owens (understudy Haley Hannah, subbing for Sydney Morton on opening night) from the get-go. There she is, a Pittsburgh steel mill worker, a welder who has stars in her eyes as well as sparks as she dreams of trading in her grimy days for that of a ballerina, training at the top-shelf Shipley Academy. Considering that she is feisty and tough-talking, with an aggressive personal dance style, the aspiration is a plausibility stretch.

In the film, which was mostly trashed by critics as trite, Jennifer Beals’s Alex could act but she didn’t have to dance, since uncredited body double Marine Jahan performed those tasks, obscuringly backlit — except for the signature slo-mo leap through the air, done by a gymnast, and the breakdance finale, done by a guy. Sorry to say, while Hannah was spirited and convincing as Alex, her dancing the show’s concluding number, “What a Feeling,” which needed to wow us as her audition performance for the school, was a letdown in both skillfulness and limp choreography.

The emotional core of the musical, striving against odds, is amplified by Alex’s romance with the son of the steel mill’s corporate family, Nick Hurley (Derek Carley, subbing for Corey Mach on opening night). Carley is the best actor of the bunch, even in delivering his songs, and it’s not hard to believe that spoiled rich kid Nick would fall for a young woman with Alex’s spunk. Their duets, such as “Dealbreaker” and “Hang On,” pull any straying interest back to the story.

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