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 www.KimmelCenter.org/Broadway