Theatre review - Flashdance the Musical, Palace Theatre Manchester

PUBLISHED: 12:33 13 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:33 13 February 2018

Flashdance, the musical.
Credit: Brian Hartley

Flashdance, the musical. Credit: Brian Hartley

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A joyous explosion of dance in the best tradition of the genre.

Flashdance, the musical.
Credit: Brian HartleyFlashdance, the musical. Credit: Brian Hartley

What genre? The one where there’s a girl (or a boy) and all she wants to do is dance, but oh, her background and lack of opportunity means dance school is never going to happen…until…TALENT CONQUERS ALL! There are more than a few movies that follow this well worn path, but Flashdance led the way and the surprise hit of the 80’s (before Dirty Dancing stole its crown and wouldn’t give it back) formed an unforgettable moment in the lives of so many that when Flashdance the Musical comes to town, going to watch is a given.

As musicals go, this is a dance spectacular with more than a few song spectacular moments threaded through. The sheer talent on stage at any given moment is breathtaking. What these dancers can do with their bodies is quite extraordinary – and they can sing too, really, really sing!

Flashdance, the musical.
Credit: Brian HartleyFlashdance, the musical. Credit: Brian Hartley

The lead role, of Alex Owens (trainee welder by day, raunchy club dancer by night, with a burning desire to be a ballet dancer all the time) is filled really rather admirably by Joanne Clifton, of Strictly fame. Crikey, can this girl dance. She displays an intensity in every movement that reflects perfectly the thread that plays throughout the storyline – that a girl can completely lose herself in dance, can ‘disappear’, as Alex tells her mentor, ex-ballet dancer and teacher Hannah. Clifton can sing too, extremely well. It’s not hard to imagine that even if she’d not chosen world domination in ballroom dancing, she’d still be at the top of the musical theatre game. She can sing, dance, act, choreograph, is TV friendly and looks amazing at all times, she’s not so much a triple threat as DefCon 3.

Her romantic interest, the steel mill owner’s son Nick Duffy, is played by A1’s Ben Adams. He has a considerably longer CV than Joanne Clifton, yet his stage presence simply isn’t as great and there seems a rather a lack of chemistry – mind, they’re barely given a moment on stage together so that’s understandable. He can sing and he can act, but perhaps this isn’t entirely the role for him.

I Love Rock & Roll. Flashdance, the musical. 
Credit: Brian HartleyI Love Rock & Roll. Flashdance, the musical. Credit: Brian Hartley

All the songs that filled the airwaves after the release of Flashdance (the movie) in 1983 are present and correct and done brilliantly. Gloria, Manhunt, Maniac and oh my – I Love Rock n Roll, performed brilliantly, positively soul-stirringly and definitely enough to get the audience really revved up. And of course, the iconic What a Feeling, performed live by the full cast and with the live orchestra, as Joanne performs that routine – well, wow.

With all that brilliance, I am left wondering why I didn’t leave the theatre last night feeling a bit more buzzy. A really great musical brings the audience to its feet spontaneously, which didn’t happen, although we rose swiftly enough when asked to do so. I think it’s maybe to do with the storyline being a bit forced into shape, to fit the stage and the time they have available. No character is properly developed and their stories follow a bit of tick box journey.

Boy wants to be comedian. Boy goes to New York. Boy fails and comes home. Tick. Girl wants to be on MTV. Girl is tempted to dance in a lapdancing club, because this is where music video producers all hang out (obviously). Girl sinks into drug use before being rescued by boy. Tick. Rich boy gets to know his father’s employees. Boy fails to save said employees from redundancy. Boy quits. Tick.

It’s not an easy task to condense an entire movie into a theatre production, but it is regularly done and with great success. Perhaps the book needs a look at? Perhaps less needs be told? Perhaps I’m just being picky. Whatever, the slightly rushed sensation we get as the story unfolds just takes the edge off what is otherwise a brilliantly staged example of the sheer joy that music and dance, done well, can bring to an audience. What a feeling, in fact.

Flashdance the Musical plays at the Palace Theatre Manchester until Saturday 17 February. | 0844 871 3019

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