Suffering bad reviews at the hands of the critics when it first opened in 1983, the original film version of this musical went on to gross over $100 million at the box office. Which is proof positive, if any were needed, that critics and audiences don't always see things from the same vantage point. Given the current trend to cash-in on film successes, 'Flashdance' has now migrated to the West End stage. Ardent fans of the film who have found a special place for it in their nostalgic hearts might find this an affront, or an opportunity. Either way, I think they'd appreciate the conviction with which this show has been painstakingly pieced together, because it's a slick and brilliantly-crafted production that's hard to fault.
Almost from the time the curtain goes up, you can detect the invisible hand of a director – Nikolai Foster - who not only knows what he wants but knows exactly how he's going to get it. If there was ever a rock musical with a real sense of seamlessness about it, this is it. That might seem on odd thing to say since much of the work of a production team is about precision and ensuring a show maintains momentum. Here, it is taken to the level of fine art, and the production is all the better for it. Scenes almost spill over each other as one flows effortlessly into the next, and although the whole thing comes dangerously close to being over-produced on occasion it never tips over the edge.
The story isn't the strongest by any means, but it has conviction and realism so it's more than up to the task. Alex Owens (played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) works in a steel plant by day, but lives to dance in a club by night. Her ambition is to get into a dance school, and she's aided in this by becoming romantically attached to the nephew of the owner of the steel mill. She's also faced with new challenges where she dances as the club owner is suffering competition from a new strip club, and his dancers are being lured away.
Morgan Large's exceptional design is based on the dowdy, rusting guts of a run-down steel plant. The industrial theme runs right the way through the design concept linking the various locations, including the laundrette where Alex's mother works. Projections further add to the atmosphere of the dance sequences, and there's a well-drawn nightmare scene to evoke Alex's feelings of grief when her mother is killed in a robbery.
Arlene Phillips is the choreographer, and takes the dance sequences to a new level. There's plenty of athletic tumbles and leaps from the dancers, giving the performances street grittiness and credibility, but with masses of creative energy and zing. The company dancing and singing is pretty-much first rate, though I was always expecting something rather more from Victoria Hamilton-Barritt's dancing – after all, she's supposed to be the best of the dancers, but we really don't get to see why.
Professionalism and integrity blaze from this show like hill-top beacons, or some of the fireworks that are also part of the creative recipe. Though the story has its necessary moments of sentimentality, there's an underlying grittiness about it which is both realistic and convincing. What the show tries to do is to tell the story without pandering to the whims of audiences by inserting unnecessary humour, or devices such as cute dogs and the like. Even the curtain calls – usually endless in this type of musical – are well-controlled. There's enough of a reprise to get everyone engaged but it's timed pretty much to perfection, so that we avoid the irritating feeling that we're never going home.
If anything, 'Flashdance' is a drama with music. Though it's not exactly my cup of musical tea, the professionalism and creativity on display here is enormously persuasive, bordering on the magnetic. If rock provides your fix, this will be a tough one to beat and should prove a fantastic night out.
"It is the clumsy attempt by director Nikolai Foster and writers Tom Hedley and Robert Cary to turn a trite but mildly enjoyable film into something starker and more hard-hitting that is the production’s great weakness. The upbeat ending feels downright dishonest, and I left this supposedly feelgood show actually feeling both cheated and depressed."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"Flashdance, for all its dazzle, lacks a real imaginative freshness....Yet it’s a raunchy, crowd-pleasing spectacle which busily delivers both the things its title so brazenly promises.."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"Flashdance is a slickly achieved hybrid of an adult version of Billy Elliot meets Fame?"
Mark Shenton for The Stage
"Will this new musical live up to the film?...the short answer is no."
Julie Carpenter for The Express
"The show brims with physical energy and is full of visual invention. "
Michael Billington for The Guardian