Review By Frances Winston
It seems like the only prerequisite to get funding for a musical at the moment is that the plot is based on a hit 80s movie. While Flashdance might have been the third highest grossing picture of 1983, I don’t think anyone who’s seen it could argue that it’s deep and meaningful or high art.
What it is is the ‘inspirational’ story of Alex – apprentice welder by day, and nightclub dancer by night, who dreams of being a proper dancer and attending a well-known dance academy, despite her lack of training. That’s basically the plot. Along the way, she finds herself falling for the wealthy son of her boss in the factory – because it’s not an 80s movie unless there’s a romantic subplot.
To be fair – despite the fact that I enjoyed the film when I saw it as a child – it is astonishing that they managed to get an entire motion picture from the plot. So managing to generate a whole musical from it seems a stretch. And indeed the film may well be about a dancer, but it is not a musical, so therefore does not contain enough songs to sustain a stage show, so the well-known hits (Maniac, Gloria, I Love Rock And Roll and the Oscar winning theme-tune, Flashdance What a Feeling) are interspersed here with brand new material.
This might seem like a good compromise, but the new tracks don’t always sit well with the 80s-tastic film music. Also it’s very ballad-heavy, and while I can’t fault any of the singers, it does cause the show to drag in parts.
This is a shame, as leads, Joanne Clifton, whom you’ll recognise from Strictly Come Dancing, and Ben Adams, formerly of boyband A1 (or they might be back together – who knows, everyone seems to be reforming), have a lovely rapport together. Clifton in particular does a great job as Alex, although her extremely broad accent does make it difficult to understand her at times.
In fact, all of the cast are great and buzzing with more energy than your average toddler. Which is just as well because this is an extremely physical show, and they really earn their money. The choreography is fantastic, and covers so many differents genres of dance that it never gets boring.
Unfortunately, one of the movie’s iconic moments – the one where Alex releases a downfall of water on top of herself while dancing in the club – feels shoehorned in here. It seems to serve no purpose other than to ensure that Clifton/Alex ends up with a wet leotard.
Obviously – much like the movie – the big climax is Alex’s audition. Again, this is an extremely iconic movie-moment – Geri Horner even parodied it for her “It’s Raining Men” video. And yes, Clifton does a great job. But it just feels a bit…lacking. To be fair, Jennifer Beals didn’t actually perform the dance herself, she had a double for all the dance sequences, and she had the benefit of different camera angles to enhance her moves. But it feels cut short when it is interrupted by the other dancers in the show, and it never really feels like as big a moment as it should be.
The sets are also a bit of an issue. They are clunky and cumbersome, and the cast seem to spend as much time moving them as performing. There are two moveable staircases, and when they are doubling as offices in the factory or dressing rooms in the club, the actors actually have to climb under a safety rail instead of walking through as if there was a door there, which look a bit ridiculous.
And the sound really needs to be addressed. There were serious problems with the levels the night I attended. Some people couldn’t be heard, while others sounded like they were screaming. There was really no balance at all, and it did affect enjoyment of the songs and comprehension of the dialogue.
Overall this is supposed to be a bit of fun. The paper-thin plot and archaic gender politics might be somewhat dated, but if you ignore that and focus on the dancing (of which there is plenty) this is quite entertaining in a nostalgia-fest kind of way. The cast’s energy is infectious, and if you don’t analyse this too deeply, you will have a great night (if they sort out the sound issues).
So break out your legwarmers and shell suits, and let this take a hold of your heart – for a couple of hours anyway. Because it’s not the kind of show that lingers. It’s good as a work in progress, but definitely needs work if it wants to sustain itself as a serious musical contender.
Flashdance the Musical
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Dock, Dubin 2
Until 16th June, 7.30pm nightly.
Matinee 2.30pm 13th and 16th June
Tickets from €21