Saturday 2nd December, 2017 at Grand Opera House, York.
Flashdance is a classic example of a bouncy, joyful musical packed to the gunwales with high energy, high visual impact musical numbers. Based on the popular film (Screenplay by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszteraas), with Book by Hedley and Robert Cary and directed by Hannah Chissick, this touring production seeks to bring the magic of the movie to the stage. The talent on display from the dancers in the cast is top notch and the vocals of the female supports to Joanne Clifton as our lead, Alex Owens, are great. Joanne Clifton gives a stunning performance and if there’s such a thing as the whirling personification of the joy of dance, she’s it. But this show from Selladoor Productions swiftly places itself firmly in the conveyor belt category of musicals; musical number – dance routine – musical number – dialogue – dance routine and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re there primarily for the undoubtedly phenomenal dance sequences (it is, after all, a story centred on dance), but if you’re like me and like a strong central narrative nicely padded with purposeful musical accompaniment, you might find yourself a little disappointed here.
There is a story, of course – the plight of wannabe dancer Alex Owens who welds by day and dances in a run down, failing establishment by night – that story is famous – but in this production, the narrative is a little tepid amongst the heavy musical numbers. Most of the scenes supporting that story are limited to 1-3 minutes maximum, regardless of the content, in order to make way for ploughing into the next segment of vibrant gyrations of the cast. Just a little more time devoted to injecting more emotion into the piece would make a huge difference to the overall quality of this inspiring story of pursuing your dreams, as billed. There are commendable attempts to project emotional performances from Ben Adams as the lovestruck romantic interest from ‘a different world’ to Alex and from Hollie-Ann Lowe, who does a good job of delivering Gloria’s familiar story of an aspiring talent taking a drastically wrong turn – Grizabella minus the whiskers and plus some hard drugs if you will. But it is Clifton alone who manages to give a character depth in this production and even while she’s up there emoting, it feels like there’s a stage manager pointing at his timer in the run up to the next Robbie Roth beat dropping. When the scenes designed to humanise that twirling vision of lycra and legs are rushed, they feel empty and without that quality, the piece fails to deliver fully.
Clifton outshines the production itself by a few hundred kilowatts and she is wholly deserving of the leading part. This magnetic performer nails every single number and seems to have her own personal line to the local power station. Clifton also has a beautiful, powerful voice capable of great warmth and great chutzpah alike – she growls out her passion for dance and sweetly lullabies herself with her own dreams. Her duets with Adams are beautiful and their voices make a superb combination; those duets are perhaps the closest we get to real heart in the piece and the pair have some lovely chemistry. But despite such high points, Clifton is pretty much in a league of her own up there. The production makes great use of the Strictly champion’s phenomenal talent and showcases the hidden talent of her voice, but it neglects to allow her to explore dramatic moments fully enough.
Choreography from Matt Cole is the crowning glory of this production, creating impressive displays of physical skill where the cast dash through high octane pieces at the speed of light and in perfect unison. The trio of female dancers, Sia Dauda as Kiki, Demmileigh Foster as Tess and Lowe as Gloria, are nothing short of brilliant and flanking the indefatigable Clifton, they are a killer combination. They are, however, at times let down by garish costuming which seeks to capture the period but sees too much bunching and too much layering of Lycra. Set design from Takis is simple and a little rickety with some over-use of spinning staircases, some good use of multi-functional pieces and some nice projections from Daniel Denton used to varying success. Lighting is questionable and blinds the audience more than once for reasons unknown, but it picks up the rainbows of the costuming beautifully in those all-or-nothing dance numbers.
Maxed out on dance numbers and songs but failing to deliver real emotion, Flashdance is well worth seeing for the musical numbers, for Clifton’s brilliant performance and for the beautiful Adams-Clifton duets but not so much as a well-rounded piece of musical theatre. The performances are good but they’re not particularly gripping or nuanced – it’s all a bit heavy handed in places but the fun factor is definitely apparent. In fact, the fun-loving element is firmly front and centre but the extreme imbalance between story and musical numbers cheats this production out of anything particularly memorable other than the general haze of all the spinning and Clifton’s raspy, distinctive pipes. Were the audience up in their feet at the end, at the behest of Adams, for the big finale montage? Yes. Were they all smiles? Absolutely. This one is firmly down to what it is you’re looking for in a musical, and for me, it was great entertainment but not the full package.
Flashdance continues to tour into 2018 and you can get your tickets here.