In the memorable climax of the 1983 film Flashdance, welder/exotic dancer Alex Owens, played by Jennifer Beals, launches into a crucial audition for a prestigious ballet academy, only to make a false step and lose her balance. Whereupon she summons her pluck and asks to start over. In that same spirit, Flashdance – The Musical, which opened Wednesday night at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, is a whopping big redo.
Authors Tom Hedley, who co-wrote the screenplay, and Robert Cary haven’t just recreated the movie as a live stage show, they’ve done a massive overhaul. Characters have been cut, added and reconceived, while the Pittsburgh-set story has been made to both reflect the 1980s recession and resonate with the current economic climate.
True, the original picture wasn’t exactly a flop: Although it was pummelled by the critics, its glossy music-video sequences and radio-friendly soundtrack triumphed, transforming it into an eighties pop-culture icon. And those sexy posters of a wistful-eyed Beals in an oversized sweatshirt didn’t hurt, either. But Hedley and Cary have taken its featherweight dare-to-dream plot and given it a dose of dramatic steroids. And, most wisely, they’ve turned to Toronto’s Broadway tornado, Sergio Trujillo, to make this into the flashy dance show it begs to be.
As both director and choreographer, Trujillo takes his cue from Alex’s famous shower routine and absolutely drenches us in dance. He floods Klara Zieglerova’s industrial-themed set with a sparkling stream of burlesque, ballet and break-dancing, even throwing in a splash of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk for added nostalgia.
Trujillo and his collaborators have also made imaginative improvements on some of the film’s classic numbers – especially Manhunt, now an anthem of female empowerment, with exotic dancer Kiki (a fierce Kyra Da Costa) making like Grace Jones and brandishing a crossbow.
We also get a tougher Alex, played with strutting sass by Sydney Morton. Where Beals’s aspiring ballerina was dreamy and tear-stained, Morton is a little spitfire. Her Alex delights in baiting her steel-mill boss, Nick Hurley (a likable Corey Mach), who is no longer a divorced older man as per the movie, but an idealistic young preppy. Their romance plays out against layoffs at the mill and declining revenues at the nightclub where Alex dances, imparting a mood of working-class despair more likely to remind you of those other films-turned-musicals, Billy Elliot and The Full Monty.
Hedley and Cary have been almost too ambitious, adding new subplots and fleshing out the existing ones. Robbie Roth, meanwhile, has composed 16 new songs that often cannily echo the movie’s signature hits – Maniac, Gloria, Flashdance … What a Feeling – but never quite replicate their hooks.
The actors, though, make distinct improvements on their screen characters. Ginna Claire Mason as Alex’s fellow dancer-dreamer and David R. Gordon as her wannabe-comedian boyfriend, in particular, have the charm of a young Cyndi Lauper and Tony Danza. And while Madeleine Doherty lays it on too thick as Alex’s feisty old mentor, she belts out a very funny tune about the agonies and injuries of dancing.
This version of the musical is, in fact, a redo of the redo. The first iteration – minus Trujillo – had a mixed reception in London’s West End back in 2010. The new model arrives in Toronto as the last stop on a U.S. tour. Its eventual goal is Broadway, but it will still need some trims and fine tuning if it wants to make an Alex-style splash.