Review – Flashdance the musical

I remember seeing the original film of Flashdance when it first appeared, but it’s not one that’s achieved the status of, say, Dirty Dancing or Grease and been shown consistently ever since. At least not in my home. I, for one, have not seen it again until now in this, its current life as a musical.

The story is set in the 1980s (or the present day, as it was in the original film). It concerns Alex Owens, welder by day and exotic dancer by night. We see her and her fellow dancers as they attempt to follow their various dreams of a life outside the steel works and Pittsburgh.

The 80s setting is not one that necessarily provokes fond fashion memories, but here on the stage the garish colours, leg warmers and leotards combine with great lighting design and some classic tracks to great effect. The set is flexible and multi-level, also incorporating highly effective video screens which quickly take us from a river to a dance studio.

From the opening number the energy, enthusiasm and precision of the dancers is apparent. And whilst this is obviously very much a dance show (see title), the fact the original is not a musical means we do have a serviceable plot and a wide range of interesting characters with stories to tell. Hollie-Ann Lowe gets a great chunk of the story as Gloria, one of Alex’s dance colleagues who is lured away to a seedy club with the false promise of the opportunity of stardom. I also enjoyed Colin Kiyani’s performance as failed stand-up Jimmy – who also gets his own very catchy song. And Carol Ball was wonderful as Alex’s wise dance teacher.

Carol Ball and Joanne Clifton. Photo by Brian Hartley

Star billing goes to last year’s Strictly Come Dancing professional winner Joanne Clifton as Alex, along with Ben Adams, lead singer from the band A1. Ms Clifton is, as you would expect, stunningly good in the dances but also acts and sings brilliantly, nailing a convincing US accent. Ben Adams plays her boss at the steelworks and as such is let off the more technically challenging dance numbers. But he is convincing in the part and it’s when he eventually gets to sing that you can appreciate why he’s there.

In fact the whole company are, collectively and individually, quite outstanding dancers. The chorus numbers in particular are thrillingly entertaining. At the same time, they fit within the show so it avoids that juke box musical feel where the plot and characters are simply placeholders to get you from one song and dance moment to the next.

Finally, a word about the Orchard at Dartford, which was packed on a Monday night. They’re doing something right at the Orchard. One thing, I’m sure, is the amount of promotional effort they make to let yo know what else is coming. There are posters everywhere – from the specially printed drip-mats on the bar to posters in the loo. Others could learn from this. Looking forward to my next visit already!

Flashdance the musical is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 14 October.