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Theatre: Flash in the pan

Heather Smith discovers there's more to Arlene Phillips than meets the eye, and wishes she could say the same about Flashdance

Published on January 29th 2009.

Theatre: Flash in the pan

I'M of the age where Arlene Phillips is the mature, mouthy, man-loving judge on Strictly Come Dancing. And that's it. Imagine my surprise when I found out that she could not only bust a move herself once upon a time but was still in the business, choreographing the touring production of Flashdance no less. And she is superb. It is the slick routines bring the energy, enthusiasm and excitement to what would otherwise be a shoddy mess.

Loosely based on the 1983 hit film, Flashdance has been adapted for the stage by Robert Cary with the help of original screenplay writer Tom Hedley. The steel industry in which is set is perhaps appropriate, given that the production, at times, is incredibly hard work to watch.

It would be wrong to expect a gripping and thorough plot. The film came in a series of high concept Hollywood pop pictures; Fame, Footloose, Dirty Dancing. It was teenage rebellion addressed by film. Young people breaking the mould, moving on and out of the life that their parents led. No one cared about specifics so long as the succinct marketable package was in place.

Flashdance follows small-town steel mill working tomboy Alex Owens (Victoria Hamilton-Barrit) who dreams of securing a place at a prestigious middle-class dance school. The odds are stacked stupidly against her but, unsurprisingly, she manages to bag a place. Oh and while she’s at it, she also finds her one true love in Nick Hurley (Noel Sullivan).

This stage adaptation works hard to fill gaping holes in the narrative and characterisations - such as the absent father- but seems only to succeed in prolonging them, often painfully.

And you wonder why they went to such effort, the audience, it seems, couldn't care less about details, they came for the famous chair dance and the false-start audition and they went wild when they got them. Elsewhere it was a case of rustling, whispering and inappropriate woop-wooping.

Hamilton Barrit performed brilliantly in the big dance sequences. No stranger to a lead role - she has played Carmen Diaz in Fame's West End run - she revealed her strict stage school training in the over precise pronunciation of everything.

Noel Sullivan was the surprise performer of the evening, though; he played Alex's concerned-do-gooder-love-interest perfectly, winning just as much if not more crowd affection and applause than Alex herself. But then again the audience was around 70 percent female and he's quite a good looking chap...

Bernie Nolan also stood out as Alex's mother, Hannah, her voice far exceeding the somewhat limited role. And Corrie's Todd Grimshaw, Bruno Langley, turns up as Jimmy Kaminsky, the stereotypical “product of a broken home,” the no hoper who ruins his life, turning first to drugs and then to crime.

The supporting dancers were excellent although their role in between scenes seemed to be an attempt to inject a bit of life in to an otherwise stale sequence.

Despite the fact that the only song on anyone’s lips from the outset was the Academy Award winning “Flashdance - What A Feeling” title track, Robbie Roth's original efforts unfortunately brought little more to the performance. It was often difficult to catch the lyrics and thus most of the songs were instantly forgettable. High points came when the upbeat dances were met with the epic pop numbers such as Maniac, Manhunt and Gloria.

Amid the drawn out plot and depressing 1980s America setting of job-cuts, drugs and crime, Flashdance undeniably finishes as a feel good musical.

Right at the end, the audience - obviously fanatics of the film- are up, clapping, dancing and, of course, singing. And, having not always enjoyed this show, I was surprised to be up with them. What a Feeling indeed.

In the brief euphoria of the curtain-call it was hard to remember what had been so bad about the production. The feisty choreography far outweighed the rest. But isn’t that just the way it is supposed to be here?

6/10: Flash moves (but that's it) Flashdance, Liverpool Empire, Lime Street, until Saturday January 31. 7.30pm Tel: 0844 847 2525

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