Flashdance is a confusing show, because while the plot, narrative, and characterisation are all horrendous, the performances last night at the Bristol Hippodrome were excellent. Truly an example of making the best of a bad situation.
We all know the story from the iconic 80s film, of course; fiery, feisty Alex Owens works as a welder, but dreams of becoming a dancer and making it into the elite Shipley School of Dance. The problem with the stage musical, though, is that neither the plot or characters are developed enough, meaning that we just don’t care what Alex is up to, or that her friend Gloria has gone to work in a strip joint. We care even less about Gloria’s boyfriend, who speaks all of 10 lines before heading to New York to make it as a comedian. He soon realises the bright lights of the city aren’t for him and he returns….and an entire solo number is dedicated to his story, which we really didn’t want or need.
However, to judge this production of Flashdance the Musical on its awful script is unfair, because the actors shone on stage. Having never seen Joanne Clifton in anything other than Strictly, I was really pleasantly surprised. It’s expected that she can dance, of course, but she also has a lovely strong singing voice, and she played the role of Alex well. She’s a leading lady and one to watch, make no mistake. Easily the best thing about seeing Joanne in a starring role is that she looks as though she’s having an absolute blast, and her smile lights up the stage. Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious.
Supporting her is Ben Adams, formerly of boyband A1 and now an exceptionally accomplished musical theatre performer (writer, too- watch out for Eugenius coming to the West End). He’s perfectly cast in the role of Nick Hurley, even though the character is pretty lame, he made the best of it and he shares great chemistry with Joanne.
Alex’s friends, Gloria, Kiki, and Tess, played by Hollie-Ann Lowe, Sia Dauda, and Demmileigh Foster, respectively, were also strong; fantastic vocals and great dancing, though all dancers could have been a little more together at times. I was also surprised to see a scene showing the ballet class at the supposedly elite Shipley, where not one of the dancers was en pointe. I realise that’s picky, but my main take away from all the dance school scenes was that it wasn’t actually that great a school.
There were a few nods to the film that fit really nicely; not least the closing of act one where Alex empties a tank of water over herself. That was perfectly executed and worked well, but overall the show felt very long, and the extended medley of songs at the end of the show was needless, as reflected by the amount of audience leaving before the cast had left the stage.
Flashdance is a hard show to score, because while its script deserves at the most one star, this company, directed by Hannah Chissick, deserves four stars very easily. Just don’t go expecting any kind of substance or depth of storytelling. Sit back, enjoy the dancing and the fabulous costumes.