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Monday, December 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Light Drizzle Fog/Mist
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Flashdance: The Musical fills Overture Hall with '80s-style breakdancing and lots of wisecracks
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The actors are faced with material that's difficult to turn into magic.
Credit:Kyle Froman Photography

I rewatched Flashdance, the 1983 movie starring Jennifer Beals, on Monday. Last night I saw Flashdance: The Musical, the latest touring production at Overture Hall (through March 2). My expectations were modest since the movie doesn't have much of a plot. The musical also hasn't been to Broadway (Overture's ads describe it as "Broadway bound"), so I expected it to have a few wrinkles that would normally get ironed out in a big-city run. But even when adjusting for these factors, the production doesn't wow, even with fiery sparks and strobe lights.

The story centers on Alex, an 18-year-old woman who works as a welder by day and an "exotic dancer" by night. (The dancing in the movie isn't very provocative by modern standards, and the costumes are pretty tame compared to what Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus have worn in recent years.) She dreams of studying at Pittsburgh's conservatory to become a professional dancer, but she has no formal training, a requirement for admission.

In the movie, Alex is a gentle soul with doe eyes and a warm smile, the kind of person who cries when recalling the hard knocks she's suffered. Some might even call her shy. On the rare occasion that something angers her, she'll storm off or throw a brick through a window, then quietly zip off on her bicycle. In the musical, she's a tough chick who has no qualms about decking a sleazy bar owner. She hurls wisecracks at men whenever an opportunity arises.

Nick, her love interest in the movie, is a divorced man about 20 years her senior who dispenses wisdom about the importance of chasing one's dreams. He got rich by building a profitable mill, but he hasn't forgotten his working-class roots. The musical's Nick is a handsome young man from a wealthy background. His grandfather has made him an exec at the family business. He resembles sweet, impressionable movie Alex more than worldly movie Nick.

Flashdance the movie is a sort of Cinderella tale (wealthy boy helps non-wealthy girl build a better life for herself), while Flashdance: The Musical is more like Romeo and Juliet (boy and girl try to overcome their cultural differences).

Though movie Alex can seem a bit pathetic at times, I prefer her to musical Alex, who lacks dimension. Sydney Morton brings spunk to the role, plus the ability to hold loud notes for a very long time. I expected more from her, however. Vibrato couldn't hide some of her pitch problems, especially at the beginning of the show, and several castmates stole the spotlight, in particular DeQuina Moore in a kick-ass rendition of "Manhunt." I'd like to see her lead a production. Ginna Claire Mason brought commanding vocals to the role of Gloria, Alex's somewhat ditzy best friend, and Corey Mach made a fine Nick, his sweet tenor meshing nicely with Morton's alto.

The actors aren't entirely to blame for the show's problems. They're talented and undoubtedly work very hard, but they're faced with material that's difficult to turn into magic. Most of the songs written for this musical don't hold a candle to the movie's hit tunes, which include "What a Feeling," "Maniac," "Gloria" and the Joan Jett classic "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." Having some of the strongest singers perform "What a Feeling" at the end of the show was a smart choice, but the dancing that accompanied the song wasn't nearly as impressive.

Those who've seen the movie will recall that Alex shows off a killer pirouette, some difficult breakdancing moves and other flourishes that inspired legions of teen girls to don leotards, legwarmers and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts. Morton's moonwalk was enjoyable, but her breakdancing was subpar and her spins were only okay.

Though Flashdance: The Musical will make you laugh out loud with lines like "I don't have much talent; that's why I'm gonna move to L.A.," study the movie if you're looking for 30-year-old dance moves.

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