Flashdance, Shaftesbury Theatre, London
A dancer's dreams come true
Monday 18 October 2010
At this rate, you soon won't have to bother with going to the cinema.
Just wait till the stage version comes round. The irony is that so many of these musical stage transcriptions are in a way returning the movie to its true home, that of the performing arts, usually dance, as in the case of Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing.
The sting and buzz of live theatre is what is missing from the movie versions and, in the case of Flashdance, that theatrical dimension is realised with a pulsating vengeance: the Pittsburgh steel factory is the dance floor in embryo, and hard-hatted union labour revitalises the dance industry.
This metaphor is at the heart of Arlene Phillips's brilliant choreography, which matches the grinding blare of 1980s heavy metal rock and street-fighting savvy – the 1983 film's five "theatrical" songs have been boosted to a full, deafening blast of a score by composer Robbie Roth and lyricist Robert Cary – with a creative explosion of body-popping, break-dancing, pole-dancing, jazz and nightclub vitality.
The story of Alex, the Pittsburgh welder who dreams of dance glory while mixing her day job with stints in seedy bars, is not only an urban fairytale that predates and prefigures both The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, it's now a catalogue of Phillips's entire creative career, from her innovative television troupe Hot Gossip to the robotic street dance of Starlight Express.
Okay, so Alex wants to go to ballet school. Phillips builds that aspiration into the elegant line of many of the dances. But what the show is now really about is recognition – the climactic audition becomes a stamp of approval for the urge to sing and dance out loud.
Whereas in the film Alex makes her point in self-absorbed self-fulfilment, the stage at the Shaftesbury opens out with a shower of welding sparks and a tribe of liberated body-poppers, leading right into an onstage megamix and an invitation to the audience to get up and get down.
Director Nikolai Foster has persuaded Tom Hedley (with Robert Cary) to improve his screenplay with a tougher plot. Alex's meddling mum (Sarah Ingram) comes a cropper and one of her pals, Gloria (Charlotte Harwood), has to be rescued from gangland drugs hell.
Alex herself is sensationally well played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, a shining new star if ever I saw one, who drives the whole show with an almost overwhelming power of energy and personality. She pays fleeting homage to Jennifer Beals in the re-creation of certain movie moments, but makes big numbers like "Maniac" and "What a Feeling" completely her own.
She dances with irresistible daring and momentum, and she is admirably supported by talented Matt Willis as the boss's nephew who helps her through, Hannah Levane and Twinnie Lee Moore as powerful, sexy partners in dance delight, and Russell Dixon doubling effectively as the steel mill foreman and a harassed club owner.
To 26 February (020 7379 5399; www.flashdancethemusical.com)
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