Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Flashdance, the Musical

Flashdance, the Musical, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield. Book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, Music by Robbie Roth, lyrics by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth. Direction and choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Featuring Jillian Mueller, Corey Mach and Ginna Claire Mason

Review: Flashdance, the Musical


By Wendy Rosenfield
For the Inquirer

Perhaps the first line of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” sums up Flashdance, the Movie, best: “Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night, lookin’ for the fight of her life.” Remember Jennifer Beals’ Alex Owens? Pittsburgh welder by day, stripper who performs artsy, not-exactly-stripteases by night, dates the boss, harbors big dreams of getting into the fancy ballet academy? Flashdance, the Musical is much like that, but more so. Much, much more.

Though the original had no shortage of subplots, Tom Hedley (with Joe Eszterhas, Flashdance’s screenwriter), Robert Cary and Robbie Roth’s book and music, double down on the distractions, packing in 27 songs (16 in the first act alone, with five reprises). Sixteen songs are new, with plot additions galore. The worst of these might be the transformation of Michael Nouri’s sexy daddy figure/boyfriend Nick into a bland, baby-faced, country clubber (played by a genial Corey Mach) without much to offer in the way of interest besides persistent insecurity, and “Here and Now,” a solid "Up Where We Belong"-ish duet with Alex. Still, the touring production, like both Alex and her mostly critically panned movie, has an endearing quality that transcends its circumstances.

Of course, dancing and nostalgia are Flashdance, the Musical’s raison d’etre. In these, Sergio Trujillo’s direction and choreography, as well as Paul Tazewell’s pitch-perfect costumes, a blend of chopped and layered ‘80s street styles that would fare well on a present-day Urban Outfitters’ sales rack, balance new and old. As Alex’s friend Gloria -- for whom Laura Branigan’s song, a hit from the film, is adapted here -- Ginna Claire Mason shines with sunny blonde ambition; in a tribute to Madonna’s 1984 "Material Girl" video (itself a tribute to Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”), she prances and preens through a crowd of gentleman callers.

But Trujillo places most of his trust on the petite shoulders of triple threat Jillian Mueller, who recreates the film’s classic maniacal loft workout, water-bucket dance and ballet academy audition almost step-for-step. Jennifer Beals used a body double and didn’t sing. Mueller, in nearly every scene, and much of that time performing exceptional feats of aerobic intensity, does it all herself.

She gives an exhilarating performance, and if the show’s creators are smart, before this production sidles up to Broadway (it’s already seen several delays), they’ll continue to chip away at its extraneous clutter. After all, Mueller has to have enough energy left to make sure Alex’s “What a Feeling” is the climactic judge-impressing, table-jumping number that’s kept girls slashing their sweatshirt collars in her honor for the last 30 years.

Through Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets. Tickets: $20-$105.50. Information: 215-731-3333 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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