What a Feeling: 'Flashdance' at the Kennedy Center
It used to be that Hollywood trolled Broadway for often terrific movie versions of hit musicals: the whole Rodgers & Hammerstein canon from “Oklahoma” to “The Sound of Music,” Lerner & Lowe’s “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot” or “Anything Goes” and “Kiss Me Kate” from Cole Porter.
These days—with some exceptions—it’s Broadway producers who are culling movies for their musicals, with mixed results. Remember “The Addams Family” (first, a TV series) or “The Producers”? Just recently three such road versions of the Broadway originals have hit the Kennedy Center: “Sister Act” (from the Whoopee Goldberg movie), “Elf” and now “Flashdance,” which runs in the Eisenhower Theater through Jan. 19.
At least “Flashdance” has some musical cache to it. The movie was a surprise hit in the 1980s for Jennifer Beals in a tale about a gorgeous young woman, who is a factory worker by day, a strip club dancer by night, and dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. The movie overrode its improbable Cinderella story with a stripped-down plot, some hot numbers by a body double and a several anthem-like rock numbers. Like “Dirty Dancing” from the same period, it became a hit.
“Flashdance, The Musical” has the same improbable plot, with the heroine, Alex Owens now a true working class gal who falls in love with the company heir to the business, stands up for her fellow workers hard hatters on the steel mill line, still works in an odd strip club where they don’t actually strip and is generally a tough cookie who still wants to be a ballet dancer.
The musical also appears to be about an hour longer than the original film, with songs from the movie like “Gloria” (a hit for the late Laura Brannigan), “What a Feeling,” “Maniac” and the title song as well as “I Love Rock and Roll.” It also has another 16 songs, with music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth, which are serviceable if not the kind of songs that make you want to try them at a karaoke bar 20 years from now.
But here’s what’s good about “Flashdance.” It has—like the movie—enormous energy driven by a high-spirited, attractive cast who sing and dance with gusto and deliver lines with the aplomb of stand-up comedians, especially David Gordon as Jimmy, who actually wants to be a standup comedian in New York, but settles for returning to the club and his girlfriend Gloria, the appealing Ginna Claire Mason, the two of them dueting on “Where I Belong”.
But truth to tell, it’s really Jillian Mueller, a fiery, dance-dervish performer with a big voice who carries the show. She sings, hoofs, performs and breathes life into the proceedings whenever she’s on stage, which is pretty much always. Small, high-driving and high-stepping, emotional and passionate, she’s got the makings of a Broadway star, she does everything as if it’s worth giving 110 percent and carries you with her. It’s amazing that her voice has held out for the course of the tour—she has a number of anthem-like songs to sings, the kind where you’re in the spotlight feet firmly planted, head out and up, defiant and moving forward and just sort of belt it out. She also gets splashed with water while dancing emoting on a chair, a signature scene from the movie and poster.
As far as “I Love Rock and Roll” goes, Joan Jett owns that one way long ago, lock, stock and rock and leather jacket.