“Flashdance” — a 1983 movie about a Pittsburgh welder girl who dreams of becoming a dancer — captures a moment in culture that was defined by leg warmers, rock videos and stone-washed denim. “What A Feeling,” its signature anthem of glory and triumph, won an Academy Award and holds a special place in the heart of disco bunnies of the era.
Nostalgia-steeped though it may be, the tale of Alex, who captures the eye of her boss while moonlighting in an exotic club, seems a rather flimsy premise for a Broadway spectacle. Yet even the most seasoned and cynical musical-theater aficionados will be impressed by the superbly choreographed, astonishingly danced Broadway-bound musical at the Fox Theatre through Sunday.
Directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, who choreographed Broadway’s “Jersey Boys” and “Memphis,” “Flashdance — The Musical” is a classically structured romantic comedy with a pulsating electronic score of old hits and new material (by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth), covering some of the same thematic territory as “Billy Elliot,” which it predates. Both Billy and Alex (Emily Padgett) have strong-willed teachers and memories of dead mothers to fuel their passions.
Alex also has a good-looking romantic interest, Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik), and works in a club populated by archetypal gypsies, tramps, thieves and innocents.
Summoning the burlesque ghosts of “Gypsy,” Alex’s leggy cohorts — Tess (Rachelle Rak), Kiki (DeQuina Moore) and Gloria (Kelly Felthous) — add a lot of dance pizazz to the show and, in the case of Gloria, a secondary romantic plot. Tess is the proverbial gold digger and, thanks to Rak, a life force of dance and brass. Kiki is the quintessential sassy African-American sidekick whose barn-burning “Manhunt” references Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt. Gloria, aside from getting to sing the eponymous Laura Branigan dance-floor thriller, gets sucked down a vortex of degradation before having an 11th-hour reunion with her boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon), an adorably bad comedian.
Everyone makes a journey here, no one more so than Alex. Sorry to play the age card, but isn’t Padgett a little old for Alex (who was supposed to be 18 in the film)? I suspect Padgett and Hydzik will be replaced when this tour moves to Broadway. For now, Padgett is a terrific dancer and a fine singer. Hydzik is handsome and appealing, too, and particularly eloquent when he sings tenderly.
In a universally strong ensemble, JoAnn Cunningham, as Alex’s dance teacher, Hannah, stands out — a wonderful senior actress with an elegant silhouette, strong comedic chops, a lovely, well-preserved voice. Ballet dancers Brandt Martinez and Andrea Spiridonakos lead a superb company of movers.
Tom Hedley, who wrote the original screenplay, is credited here as a book writer and producer. Cary adapted Hedley’s story for the stage and, along with Roth, wrote lyrics for new music by Roth. The first half runs about 1 hour and 20 minutes — a bit long — but it never flags.
On the design side, Paul Tazewell luxuriates in the off-the-shoulder tackiness of the ’80s. Howell Binkley’s vivid lighting and Peter Nigrini’s stylish projections wash Klara Zieglerova’s wondrous sets in luminous hot and cool colors. (I especially love the use of towering curtains and projections of everything from Vogue covers to Hurley family portraits.)
“Flashdance — The Musical” is a time capsule of ’80s kitsch that flexes some surprising emotional muscle. What a feeling.