What a feeling! Flashdance: The Musical wows at New Alex

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Break out your leg warmers, the quintessential Eighties flick Flashdance is leaping onto the stage at the New Alexandra Theatre.

The plot centres on Alex Owens, played by Jennifer Beals in the film, and by two-time Strictly Come Dancing winner Joanne Clifton. Alex works as a welder at a Pittsburgh steel mill by day and an exotic dancer by night, and dreams of being accepted by the prestigious Shipley dance academy. Matters are complicated when she meets factory owner Nick (Ben Adams), who is trying to prevent mass redundancies. While Alex can’t deny her attraction to him, she also resents his wealth and privilege — and he soon oversteps the mark by trying to use his influence to secure her a place at the academy.

The show doesn’t exactly give its star-crossed lovers storyline much room to breathe, as the running time also has to contend with a subplot about Alex’s friend Gloria being exploited by the seedy Chameleon strip club. Gloria, adapted from the movie character Jeanie, feels like a bit of a sacrificial lamb; a naïve wannabe actress who is lured away from her friends by the sleazy Johnny C. and gets hooked on drugs while being coerced to dance nude, presumably to demonstrate to the audience how our heroine Alex may one day meet the same fate. It’s an incredibly dark turn in the story and is swiftly resolved, almost like a brief interlude from another production entirely — although the ‘Chameleon Girls’ number which kicks off the second act is a great one, part underworld fantasy, part Pussycat Dolls video.

The staging is clever and deceptively simple, with sets constructed from scaffolding which evokes the working class, industrial lives of its characters, and which are easily manoeuvred to create the backdrop of a nightclub, a dressing room, a factory, and the apartment of Alex’s mentor, retired ballerina Hannah.

The show blends original music with the best-loved songs from the film’s soundtrack, most notably ‘Maniac’ and ‘Flashdance…. What A Feeling’, as well as a handful of bars from Laura Branigan’s Eighties hit ‘Gloria’. These more recognisable numbers do tend to overshadow the songs written especially for the stage show, but the choreography for each and every performance is flawless.

Because really, a show like Flashdance is going to be judged by its dancing. And it doesn’t let the audience down. From the opening moments through to the standing ovation at the finale, Clifton is a force of nature as Alex, bringing the most iconic dance routines from the film to life, culminating in the triumphant audition scene. The rest of the company is a tirelessly slick machine, and each number is exhilarating as the cast spin and flip as one. If there’s one weak link, it’s Adams, best known as the lead singer of A1, who was no doubt cast for his boy band good looks and singing abilities rather than his nimble feet, but any shortcomings are easily made up for by his talented cast-mates and a seamless production team.

Flashdance: The Musical is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 9 December. Grab tickets here!

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