DISCLAIMER: This is another preview performance being reviewed here, only the third preview. Flashdance was meant to be slightly further into its run by now but a couple of previews were cancelled due to technical difficulties. I don't know what these were, but I reckon there was a possible clue in the large piece of set that came clattering down in one scene change, bouncing off the stage with a loud *thunk* noise. Actually, major highlight of the show, that was. It being a preview I should probably be polite in my critique but since I spent much of the show eagerly looking forward to writing this review, I don't see why I should deny myself the pleasure. I paid for my ticket, after all (21 quid for the very back row of the theatre.)
The only star name in this West End debut of a show that toured a couple of years ago is Matt Willis as the love interest, Nick; likeable he may have been on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here but he's not the first pop star who comes to mind as having the range for musical theatre. My sister came with me to this show and on looking at the programme her reaction was "Did I know one of Busted was in this? I don't think I'd have wanted to see it if I knew one of Busted was in this." Actually the songs are well within his range, and Willis (who seems to have lost a lot of weight) brings some of his likeability to his stage presence. By the second half Penny had amended her opinion to "The one from Busted is good! You know, in comparison." He's certainly got his work cut out for him with a vaguely-written character who's the wealthy nephew of the local steelworks' owner, but who seems to have roughly the influence of a Mafia don, turning up whenever anything dodgy happens and threatening ne'er-do-wells with trouble from his various connections.
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt plays Alex, the lead. We don't know why, but we think it might be because she's got the right hair. It's certainly not her voice or dancing. Given what the show's subject matter (and title) is, you'd think at least the latter would be a consideration, but it's more like Flashclomp as, when the script absolutely demands that she actually move a bit, clomp around the stage like a fairy elephant is indeed what she does. Given that the show ends in one of the best-known dance sequences in film, you'd expect her to get going there at least. Now, it's the inevitable, lazy choice to mention Robert Webb at this point, but at least he did the whole routine on his own. About one chorus into the title song, this production has the ensemble arrive on stage to breakdance around Hamilton-Barritt, presumably so we don't notice her skipping the trickier bits of the routine. As well as the famous leotard she clomps onto the stage wearing kneepads, suggesting we're about to see a level of exertion that turns out to be, frankly, inaccurate. Her singing voice is strong in an appropriately eighties way, but whether speaking or singing it's hard to understand a word she says - her attempt at a Pittsburgh accent essentially involves her speaking out of her nose, and adding a "huh?" to the end of each sentence. As far as I can tell, her entire dialogue is "niminy niminy niminy huh?"
At least the ensemble can dance, although they're not often required to. Mostly they get baffling solos during scene changes, in a variety of dance styles that don't particularly match the scene in question. The choreographer is Arlene Phillips, who according to her bio has been nominated for many awards, including a FANY. Nominated, but didn't win. If you remember how long last year's play Cock kept me in bad puns (basically, I'm still going strong,) you'll have guessed how much mileage I'm going to get out of this. Arlene Phillips doesn't have a FANY. Arlene would like a FANY on her mantelpiece. There's two to get you started anyway.
As for the songs, there's a handful of memorable ones from the film ("Maniac," "Gloria," "Flashdance") done competently but unremarkably, but the rest is unmemorable and too ballad-heavy. Although there are the occasionally dangerous-looking real bits of set, god forbid some projections didn't show up as well. Ian William Galloway's projections on Beautiful Burnout were well-integrated into the show but here they're like an example of how not to do it: Appearing at times that don't make particular narrative sense, and almost invariably distracting from the action rather than complementing it.
With the opportunities for high campery, for the most part the show is just annoyingly dull, but fortunately Nikolai Foster's production does occasionally venture into so-bad-it's-good territory. My favourite has to be the date sequence, where Matt Willis shows he knows how to win over the ladies as Nick and Alex's date consists of taking her to a movie, dinner, a boxing match and the ballet, all the time accompanied by two dancing matadors. No, you actually did read that right, those words were TWO DANCING MATADORS. For no conceivable reason. At least now I know why I'm still single: If only I'd known that when I went on a date with someone we were each expected to bring a matador. Elsewhere there's a sequence entitled "Nightmare," although judging from the choreography a more accurate title would be "Epilepsy." Also, when Alex and the other dancers go to rescue Gloria from the strip club, we get a sequence of them wandering all over town searching for her. Why? She's at the strip club. They know she's at the strip club. If she wasn't at the strip club, she wouldn't need rescuing in the first place. Eventually they turn up at the strip club. Gloria's there! Please try to contain your gasps of surprise.
The poster image recreates another famous moment in the film, of Alex dancing in a chair, drenched in water, arching her back and flinging her head back. In theory this is how the first act ends - in practice, after clomping to the chair and then wriggling in it for a bit, while a water tank hangs over her promising at least a spectacular act break, she then has a bit of a shower. And not a power shower either, I mean like one of those plastic hoses you attach to the taps in the bath if you don't have a proper plumbed in shower. My mum's house has got one of those, so Penny said she was surprised to find that every time she washed her hair she had in fact been recreating Flashdance. Oh and not so much of the arched back, head-flinging action either. Hamilton-Barritt just does a bit of a head-flick. Because she's worth it. Basically it's a woman having a shower sitting down, so it's less "sexy dance" and more "advert for walk-in bath during Countdown."
In the end, this doesn't really even work as car-crash theatre, because the car doesn't crash often enough to be properly entertaining. By the way the programme costs £5, but it's totally worth it for the TERRIFYING photos of Hamilton-Barritt on the back and inside front covers. She looks like an Auton.
Flashdance the Musical by Tom Hedley, Robert Cary and Robbie Roth is booking until the 26th of February at the Shaftesbury Theatre. (Don't be too surprised if it doesn't quite make it that far.)