Theatre Thursdays: Flashdance US Premiere

As I mentioned before, Flashdance the musical had its US premiere in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, so of course I went to see it. I didn’t get to see it on opening night which would have been pretty cool, but I did manage to get tickets to a Friday night performance of the nearly sold-out run.

When I posted about the premiere before I mentioned that I was concerned with how the steel mill workers would be portrayed in the musical. I was worried they may be tokenized or exaggerated to fit musical theatre tropes and that if that happened Pittsburgh audiences would be far from pleased. Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened. Unfortunately, that was because the mill workers had very little to do with the story.

The opening scene showed workers in a mill welding and operating machinery and I was instantly excited. I got a rush of nostalgia, flooded with memories of watching my Papa work in his shop and was eager to see more of this integral part of Pittsburgh history. Very quickly we’re introduced to our protagonist Alex (played by Emily Padgett) and her new boss and eventual love interest Nick (played by Pittsburgh native Matthew Hydzik). From this point on the story is much more about Alex’s dreams of dancing, Nick’s difficulties leading the company, and their rocky romance with each other than anything about the workers in the mill.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but after such a huge deal was made about this being a Pittsburgh story and launching the US Tour in Pittsburgh it feels like the setting is incidental. Apart from a few references to Pittsburgh businesses and landmarks (most delivered with a wink and a nudge toward the audience) and projections of bridges constantly in the background, this show could take place anywhere.

The music for the show itself felt a little flat to me as well. There were some good numbers and excellent performances by the wonderfully talented cast, but for the most part the show was at its best when using songs from the movie. Many numbers seemed to stop the show simply for the sake of squeezing in another song, rather than being an organic and integral part of the storytelling.

Additionally, I felt little dramatic weight to the story itself. I’m not sure where the dramatic tension might be found in the movie since I haven’t seen it, but there was very little to be found in the musical. I knew immediately (spoilers?) that Alex and Nick would end up together, that Alex would be accepted into the dance academy, and that things would work out more or less alright in the end for everyone involved. The only character whose story I didn’t find predictable, and was therefore much more interesting, was that of Alex’s friend Gloria who goes down a frightening path of abuse trying to make her dreams come true.

The dancing, however, was very good. Seeing the classical choreography of the academy students was lovely, the dance bar at which Alex and her friends work pumped up the excitement, and the few company numbers such as the opening and closing of Act I were really fun to watch. The only complaint I could lodge against the dance in this show is that it was sometimes ornamental rather than narrative. Almost every time the dancers from the Academy are shown they are being watched by Alex, being watched by Alex’s old dance teacher/mentor, or serving as a transition between scenes and the repetition got a bit old.

The sets were also excellent and cleverly utilized the space.

One of the things I love about touring shows is the way they make every set piece count by pulling double and triple duty and this set did so very well and was largely helped by the projections. When projections are used as sets I typically am not a fan but in this show they were used very effectively and complemented the physical sets perfectly.

Though this show was not a favorite of mine I did enjoy myself. If I had the opportunity to catch it again I would do so if the tickets were reasonable. It’s not something I could give a high recommendation for, but it’s certainly not terrible. Fans of the movie may enjoy seeing a new interpretation of the story they love, but as a standalone piece I don’t think it tells the story the best possible way.

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