‘FLASHDANCE – THE MUSICAL’
When: Through Aug. 18
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Info:(800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission
The Brits have their history of shuttered coal mines and “Billy Elliot, The Musical.” Here in the United States we have our downsized or abandoned steel mills and “Flashdance — The Musical.” And if there is anything at all even remotely good to say about the class struggle and the impact of battered economies on the work force it is this: It can be the source of passionate storytelling, whether in the movies or on the Broadway stage.
Of course no musical would be wholly true to form were it not filled with a certain amount of self-reflective struggle of the show biz variety. And as “Flashdance” reminds us, that struggle to realize a dream — whether it is to be a ballet dancer, a chorus dancer in an MTV video or a comedian — is akin to the life force.
Yes, “Flashdance — The Musical,” which opened Tuesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre as part of a national tour that has yet to announce a Broadway date, is corny, cliched and full of stereotypes. It also happens to be terrific, with an irresistibly old-fashioned spirit that gets you rooting for the good-hearted of this world and waiting for the sleazy to get their comeuppance. You’ve gotta love it, if only for its vintage appeal. But there also are a slew of first-rate performances, plenty of high-octane choreography from director Sergio Trujillo, flashy but never overdone design elements, and a score (music by Robbie Roth, lyrics by Robert Cary and Roth) that features many of the movie’s hits plus 16 new numbers (a trim might be in order) that help amplify the story.
Want to feel old? This is the 30th anniversary of the film’s release, and the show begins with a video collage that suggests the birth of MTV, and film footage of a space shuttle launch.
The story, of course, is about Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller, who gives an exceptional performance), the fiercely proud working class girl whose mom died when she was 10, who earns her way in the world by toiling in a Pittsburgh steel mill by day and dancing in a bar by night, and whose dream is to be accepted for professional training at the city’s dance conservatory. The Cinderella aspect comes in the form of Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik, a very solid actor), the rich, handsome, well-intentioned grandson of the mill’s owner who is “interning” on the factory floor and who immediately falls for Alex even if she is too proud to accept special favors, and initially far too defensive to cross class lines.
Mueller, a dark-haired beauty, is a splendid dancer, a solid singer and a marvelous, unforced actress who makes a genuine emotional connection with the audience. Eight shows a week? An almost unimaginable feat. Also getting super-charged workouts are Kelly Felthous, full of zest as Alex’s pal, Gloria, and DeQuina Moore and Katie Webber as the veteran club dancers who can still “put it on.” The large supporting cast is topnotch, too, in this larger-than-life blue collar fairy tale.