Entertainment & Arts

Review: ‘Flashdance the Musical’ breaks out leg warmers and ‘80s camp

Review: ‘Flashdance the Musical’ breaks out leg warmers and ‘80s camp
Emily Padgett as Alex Owens in “Flashdance, the Musical.”
(Kyle Froman)

This review has been corrected. See below for details.

“Flashdance the Musical” has its way over “Flashdance” the movie in at least one critical regard: The show’s plucky heroine — as you’ll recall: welder by day! nonstripping stripper by night! — is played by just one actress, as opposed to the constant cutting from Jennifer Beals to body double Marine Jahan that makes the 1983 film almost unwatchable as a contemporary TV rerun.


Actually, the stage version would be a riot if a stand-in for the leading lady ran in every time a dance routine begins. But funny is hardly what this “Flashdance” is going for, as the touring production settles into Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Hall through May 19, on the path to a theoretical Broadway run next year.

“Flashdance” review: In the May 9 Calendar section, a review of “Flashdance the Musical” identified the actress playing Alex as Emily Padgett. Padgett, who was correctly identified in the photograph that accompanied the review, previously played Alex. Jillian Mueller portrayed Alex in the production that was reviewed at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

What a feeling — a bemused, awe-struck feeling — you get realizing that the show is set 30 years in the past not for the sake of camp value or cracking knowing jokes (see: Broadway’s “Xanadu” or “9 to 5") but because a faithful, painfully earnest retelling is demanded by the tubular early ‘80s.There may be one other compelling reason for doing it as a period piece: its now quaint-seeming epic quest, which involves a late-blooming young adult woman trying to score an audition for a dance school. In a present-day scenario, she’d probably just put a few of her amateur moves up on YouTube and the show would be over before it got to “Manhunt,” much less “Maniac.”


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As the aspirant Alex, Jillian Mueller does a fine job of replicating Marine Jahan’s role in the three-decade-old film. The couple of moments where she breaks into that weird little strut that Jahan did in the movie give the stage version its biggest charge, fleeting as it is.

When she’s doing Beals’ part of the equation, she’s on shakier ground — not because Beals set the bar impossibly high but because the one real break from the movie is to have Mueller play Alex with a different kind of exoticism, as a screechy, bridge-and-tunnel-style teenager. The character’s age in the show is indeterminate, but Alex seems less like someone old enough to hold a welding job than a super-skinny version of “Hairspray’s” Tracy Turnblad. Mueller skews so young in the role that the idea that Alex’s wealthy dreamboat boss would be irresistibly drawn to her seems almost creepy, in addition to, well, fantastical.

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“Flashdance” helped establish a great tradition of shows and movies where a moral distinction is made between clubs where the dancers are all-but-undressed and actually undressed — a subsequent theme in “Rock of Ages,” the “Burlesque” film, and the whole Pussycat Dolls phenomenon.

There is no real difference in the raciness of the flashdancing scenes and strip-club scenes, but nonetheless, what little gravity the show has hinges on whether a supporting character will be seduced into joining a rival nightspot and taking it all off. That would-be stripper (Kelly Felthous) has been renamed Gloria so that she can bump and grind while singing a desultory version of Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” looking and sounding like a coked-out Kristin Chenoweth.

“Gloria” is one of five oldies revived from the movie, but composers Robbie Roth and Robert Cary have been brought in to contribute 16 unremarkable new numbers too (not counting reprises).

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On a few occasions, they go for spot-the-'80s-influence pastiche. Alex and boyfriend Nick (Matthew Hydzik) sing “Dealbreaker” in the style of Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker.” Nick’s “Justice” amiably apes Bruce Springsteen aping Spector. It takes a minute to realize that Gloria’s salt-of-the-earth beau Jimmy (David R. Gordon) is doing “Where I Belong” as a mildly enjoyable Billy Joel homage.

Most of the original score, though, is period-unspecific, ultra-low-grade, ingénue-with-a-dream stuff. Poor Alex has to sing what seem like thousands of lines about “knowing that this is my moment” and how leaping and falling is better than never leaping at all — generic, yearning ballads that Ariel, Beauty, and the heroine of “Tangled” all would have turned down as too juvenile. Where’s that welder’s mask when you need it?

But shoulders will be singularly bared, lower legs will be warmed, flashdancers will be doused in more than mere bucketfuls of water and that famous audition finale will be re-created so meticulously that you’ll be looking for tell-tale 35-millimeter scratches to make sure the Segerstrom isn’t actually projecting the film. What feeling? Er, sorry … what a feeling!

[For the record: An earlier version of this review incorrectly said actress Emily Padgett played the character Alex. Jillian Mueller plays Alex in the production now running at the Segerstrom Hall. Padgett, who was correctly identified in the photograph, previously played Alex.]

“Flashdance,” Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tue.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Closes May 19. Tickets, $20 to $92.50. Information: (714) 556-2121 or Running time: 2 hours, 41 minutes.


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