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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Shaftsbury Theatre   Winter 2010-2011

This is a stage adaptation of the hit 1983 film about a female steelworker named Alex who moonlights doing self-created artistic dances in a local bar, has a romance with the boss, and auditions for a Pittsburgh ballet company.

And if you think that sentence is overfull of improbabilities, the story is evidently based on a real woman, who sold the film rights for all of $2500.

One of the screenwriters has co-written this version, adding or dropping some characters and expanding the subplots about a fellow dancer lured by a strip club and a guy trying to become a comedian.

Everyone remembers four things from the film - Alex's two very sexy barroom dances (including the one that ends with her drenched with water), the audition dance, and a non-dance moment involving a bra and a sweatshirt.

They're all here, along with ten new songs by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth that are generally adequate and occasionally, as with 'One In A Million', quite good.

But the show isn't a success, even by the standards of theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre, and the main reason lies in the dancing. There's no purpose for this show if the dances aren't all exciting, energetic and sexy - and they're not.

Choreographer Arlene Phillips has created three groups of dances - recreations of Alex's solos in the film, big production numbers for the whole cast, and brief solo spots for individual chorus members who cross the stage between scenes to cover the set changes.

The last group are the most successful, keeping the energy level up during what could be dead time and frequently quite inventive in showing off the skills or sexiness of the dancers.

The group dances are colourful and energetic as well, but Phillips relies too much on the rather limited vocabulary of breakdancing.

The occasional spectacular mid-air flip aside, the production numbers begin to look alike and not much different from what any black kid in America was doing on the streets in the 1980s.

Unlike, say, the recent Into The Hoods, Phillips hasn't sufficiently cross-fertilised the style with theatre dance or raised it above its street limitations.

Which leaves Alex's three big solos.

I have to say that, reading the programme afterwards, I was surprised to discover that Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is a trained dancer, because although she's a strong actress and sings adequately, none of her dance numbers is as exciting as it should be.

One gets the impression of Arlene Phillips choreographing around her limitations rather than showcasing her strengths.

The first bar dance goes by almost unnoticed and, in a moment that is almost emblematic of the whole show, the potentially sexiest number doesn't end with Hamilton-Barritt being drenched with water, but just lightly sprinkled by what seems a blocked showerhead.

And although the audition number quotes the film's choreography directly, Phillips quickly violates the reality of the scene to bring the entire chorus line on to dance along with Alex, in what seems like a desperate attempt to inject some excitement into the moment.

(To be fair, the film actress wasn't much of a dancer either, and her solos involved a half-dozen dance doubles and some creative editing.)

Phillips and Hamilton-Barritt do have one strong moment, when Alex first visits the ballet company and goes into a dream dance that blends classical moves with her jazzier style, but the number ends just as it's beginning to build up some momentum. 

Dance honours in this stage version go to Twinnielee Moore as one of Alex's friends - Moore is also the at-certain-performances Alex, which suggests that matinee audiences may be in for a special treat - while the best singer by far is Sarah Ingram in the new role of Alex's mother.

Her spirit-boosting duet with Alex, 'One In A Million', is the show's best song, and she has the added virtue, rare in this company, of making her lyrics understandable.

This isn't Hamlet. It's a good-night-out entertainment designed for the same audience that enjoys Mamma Mia, Priscilla and We Will Rock You. But I fear that that audience, which deserves the best, will be disappointed by Flashdance.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Flashdance - Shaftsbury  Theatre 2010