TAMPA — Let's not overthink Flashdance: The Musical. At this time of year, there are lots of visitors to Florida looking for something to do, and I bet quite a few end up at this show, based on the '80s movie that made big hair, torn sweatshirts and leg warmers all the rage, not to mention catchy songs like Maniac and What a Feeling.
That's why Broadway producers fall all over themselves for the rights to name-brand musicals, and there was a crowd of 2,122 on hand Tuesday for the opening of Flashdance at the Straz Center. The people around me seemed to be having a good time, comparing the stage performers to their counterparts onscreen ("He even looks like Nick in the movie," a woman said, referring to Matthew Hydzik, who plays the Hurley Steel scion).
In two respects, the musical gets things right for fans of the movie. Emily Padgett, who plays Alex, the Pittsburgh welder by day and barroom stripper — well, not totally — at night who aspires to become a break-dancing ballerina, is an appealing presence, a lanky charmer with curly dark hair. And director-choreographer Sergio Trujillo has given her and the rest of the company plenty of interesting movement to do.
Trujillo is known for his inventive choreography in Jersey Boys, Memphis and other musicals, and his staging for Flashdance succeeds when it doesn't take things too seriously. The show has a cut-rate cartoony look (scenic design by Klara Zieglerova), and there is an undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek spoofery to the ballet steps, while the rapid hip-hop numbers are done with a virtuosity befitting Swan Lake.
Padgett has the limber athleticism for Alex's showy leaps and spins, but she also shines in less supercharged dancing — tossing off a witty little moon walk in the opening number — and is a decent belter in the big I-want aria Just Out of Reach. Her relationship with Hydzik's amiable Nick has a wisecracking playfulness.
Under Nate Patten the music is performed (loudly) by a small band with much electronic sampling. Interestingly, the credits don't mention Giorgio Moroder, the producer who compiled the disco-rock score that made the movie a smash (RIP Laura Branigan and her rendition of Gloria). Along with the golden oldies that provide the show's rationale, Robbie Roth (music and lyrics) and Robert Cary (lyrics) supply a functional set of songs to move the story along.
Two of the new numbers work well: Put It On, featuring Kiki (Dequina Moore) and Tess (Rachelle Rak), a pair of seasoned dancers who school Alex and her BFF, Gloria (Kelly Felthous); and Justice, with guys from the steel mill wielding shovels and sledge hammers as they chide Nick after he struck out with Alex.
However, because Flashdance the movie was basically one long music video, the book (by Tom Hedley and Cary) is inevitably the weak link onstage. The fairy-tale courtship of Alex and Nick doesn't neglect such famous moments as her slinky bra removal, and her water number brings down the Act 1 curtain to Maniac. But the subplots grow tiresome.
Will Gloria and her unfunny comedian boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon), get back together? Will the Chameleon, a pole-dancing palace, put Harry's, the bar where Alex and Gloria perform, out of business? (Matthew Henerson's Harry is terrific as a working stiff with musical theater style.) Will Nick come up with a plan to avoid layoffs at the mill? Will Alex's salty mentor, Hannah (Joann Cunningham), live long enough to see her plucky charge make like Billy Elliot?
And, most important, will What a Feeling ever be heard? Yes, of course, but oddly, Trujillo's choreography is least inspired in the finale, when Alex performs her audition at Shipley Academy to the song everyone is waiting for.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.