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Flashdance The Musical (review)

Matt Willis (as Nick) and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Alex). Photo credit: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

TWENTY seven years after it became a box office sensation, the movie Flashdance has been reinvented for the stage. Starring Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Alex and Matt Willis as Nick, Flashdance The Musical has just opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Set in 1983, in the American city of Pittsburgh, it’s the story of 18-year-old Alex, a welder by day and a flashdancer by night, who despite not having the necessary qualifications, dreams of obtaining a place at the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy.

However, encouragement is at hand in the form of Hannah, Alex’s mother (Sarah Ingram), who sees in her daughter the chance to atone for her own mistakes; flashdancing friends Gloria (Charlotte Harwood), Keisha (Hannah Levane) and Jazmin (Twinnielee Moore); and Nick, Alex’s love interest, who just happens to be the boss’s son.

As stories go, Flashdance The Musical is a slow burner, superficial to begin with but gradually developing into something far more substantial. It is, in fact, as much a story about friendship as about following your dreams, however unrealistic they may seem. Perhaps more importantly, it’s about sometimes getting it wrong. And threaded throughout is a mother/daughter relationship that will strike a chord with almost the entire female population.

As a musical, it’s full on right from the start, with dynamic songs such as Maniac, Gloria, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Academy Award-winning Flashdance (What A Feeling), as well as Arlene Phillips’ electrifying dance sequences that have the audience whooping with delight. But for sheer ingenuity, the Nightmare sequence takes a lot of beating – and that’s all I’m saying on that particular subject for fear of spoiling the plot.

Hamilton Barritt’s Alex is a tough cookie, even in the face of adversity, and I would have liked to have seen her display a little more vulnerability. That was left to Charlotte Harwood, making her West End debut, as the misguided and naive Gloria. If anyone needed a mother’s hug, it was her.

Willis makes a likeable and very watchable leading man and he has a fine voice to boot. Moreover, he and Hamilton-Barritt exude just the right amount of on-stage chemistry to make their relationship believable. Also worthy of individual mention are Sarah Ingrams, who turns in a solid performance as Alex’s caring mother and Sam Mackay as the unwitting ‘villain’ of the piece. However, to single out certain cast members seems unfair when the entire company give their all – whether in singing, dancing or acting out their roles.

Morgan Large’s set design and Howard Harrison’s lighting bring Hurley Steel, The Steel Bar, Alex’s Loft, Skin Deep and The Shipley Academy (here with some cleverly positioned mirrors) to life; while Sue Blane’s costumes leave little to the imagination. My one small gripe is with the sound volume which would most certainly give a Jumbo jet taking off a run for its money!

All in all, Flashdance The Musical is a highly entertaining production. And yes, it does have that feel-good factor which is so important to this type of musical. It is, therefore, a welcome addition to the West End which already has much to offer the discerning theatregoer.

NB: Flashdance The Musical does contain flashing images.

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