It always feels a little uncomfortable being around people who are trying too hard to be liked, or to be the life of the party. That's how it feels when watching the pushy and fairly brain-dead Flashdance, The Musical at Playhouse Square. This is a production that seeks to pummel the audience into submission with deafening music, cornea-searing laser lights, 80s pop music and dance steps of every description.
What is missing is any emotional clarity or honesty in this story, taken from the movie about Alex, a female welder in Pittsburgh who is moonlighting as a stripper and dreams of soaring as a ballet dancer. She is also being pursued by Nick, the handsome son of the family that owns the steel plant where she works.
Right from the opening number, a massively over-produced extravaganza that seeks to establish a back story of bad economic times, it's clear that subtlety isn't going to be high on the show's agenda.
The music is half jukebox ("I Love Rock and Roll," "Maniac," etc.) and half original (by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary). But the orchestrations by Doug Besterman make every song sound like an anthem, many of them ending with uber-amplified drum riffs and someone's fist raised high in the air. Much of the dancing is perfunctory, with poorly synchronized moments that seem strange in a professional touring troupe.
By the time Flashdance grinds to a halt after two-and-a-half hours, the anthem overload and whirling vortex of big musical theater clichés ("Life is in the living!, "Take a chance!
, "Try for your dreams!") bury any hope for genuine feeling. It's like being locked in a room with motivational cat posters.
The book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary tries to add more flesh and bone to the original story, especially through subplots involving Alex's dancing pal Gloria and her boyfriend Jimmy, as well as Nick's problems dealing with his privileged status as the next-in-line capo of his family's steel factory.
Gloria (Ginna Claire Mason) is supposedly sucked into the pits of hell when she moves from Harry's well-meaning strip joint, run by a shlubby nice guy, to a nefarious nearby joint owned by a satanic dude who wants her to (gasp!) take off her clothes. Her plummet into the depths of the skin trade never rings true for a minute, nor does her boyfriend Jimmy's struggle to become a comedian. Note to the authors: If you want Jimmy to come off as a bad comedian, don't just give him lame jokes. Let's see the flop sweat.
Indeed, there is a lack of real sweat throughout these proceedings, even though all the performers are perspiring like crazy. One never has the sense that Alex will see her dreams crushed, so she never really has anything at stake. In this flimsy role, Sydney Morton has a tough exterior, and her singing is adequate. But her dancing is a couple notches below most of the other women in the ensemble, making her quest feel a bit forced.
We all like to see a local kid make good on Broadway, and Corey Mach from Strongsville — who was playing the title role in Pippin at Cain Park only five years ago — is one prime example. Playing Nick, Mach is saddled with a lame character, a coddled Richie Rich who (you'll never guess) sees the artificiality of his family's quest for filthy lucre and sets off on his own with his blue-collar squeeze Alex. Justifiably, Mach seems rather uncomfortable with this assignment, but he sings well, making his solo "Enough" stand out amid the cacophony surrounding him.
There are a couple fun moments, such as in "Put It On," when Alex, Gloria and two other strippers have some quick-change fun with stripper gear. But most of this show is a high-volume, hyper-kinetic extravaganza signifying not very much at all.
Through April 13 at the Palace Theatre, 1615 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.org.
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