Can plucky Alex Owens climb out of the post-industrial cauldron of Steeltown, U.S.A., and become a ballet dancer? Can poor little rich boy Nick Hurley descend from his throne and be a working-class hero to Alex and her friends?
If you’re ready to wrestle with such dramatic dilemmas, you’re ready for “Flashdance the Musical,” which hoofed into Minneapolis's Orpheum Theatre on Tuesday. A national tour is testing the Broadway possibilities of this story about Alex, Nick, Gloria, Jimmy, Harry and the rest of Pittsburgh's blue-collar tribe. That question actually carries some suspense.
Director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo certainly has the show dancing with frenzied energy (yes, you could say “Like a Maniac”), and the tunes lifted from the 1983 film will keep your internal jukebox spinning until morning. How can you not love the triumphant power of “What A Feeling,” or “I Love Rock 'n' Roll?”
Quite a bit of new music, though, written by composer Robbie Roth, slides into that early 1980s pop pattern — a straight beat with choruses out of the Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes songbook. It is tuneful, serviceable and it fits the era, but it all sounds the same.
And our pulse does not race when those songs are sung. Emily Padgett and Matthew Hydzik, who play Alex and Nick, have pleasant, pop-singer voices, but never do they land with transformative power. Chorus numbers lack sonic density, and whoever turned “Gloria,” the old Laura Branigan anthem, into a truncated downer should be made to give up their leg warmers.
Padgett and Hydzik are pretty enough, and she has earned the hard, lean body of a dancer. But do we really root for them? Is there sympathy, empathy? Not really.
I am not sure whether any actors can do better with the trite script cobbled together by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary. When, for example, Alex passes her audition at the ballet school (oh dear, now I’ve gone and spoiled it), she says to Nick, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Wow.
Of the supporting cast, Kelly Felthous is cute enough as Gloria, the sidekick lured into the dark side. David R. Gordon plays her boyfriend, a dime-store Meat Loaf. Some decent work is done by Alex’s colleagues (Rachelle Rak and DeQuina Moore) at the bar where she dances. Moore is outstanding in “Manhunt.”
Jo Ann Cunningham is Alex’s salty, tough old dance teacher. Matthew Henerson plays Harry, a hardboiled yinzer who runs the bar where Alex works and Christian Whelan portrays a rival club owner — the devil in a black leather jacket.
“Flashdance” as a whole needs to work as hard as its dancers — these magnificent slabs of flesh and bone who are carrying this show. It needs to lose some scenes, some songs.
Will Alex get to the Great White Way? There has been much worse stuff on Broadway, so don’t bet against these Pittsburghers. They’ve got legs.