Expect Dancing Fireworks in Surflight’s ‘Flashdance’

By RICK MELLERUP | Jun 24, 2019

Beach Haven — The second mainstage musical of Surflight Theatre’s 2019 season is “Flashdance,” which will run through July 14.

There’s a theme of movies about very unlikely characters striving to become professional dancers and, against all odds, succeeding. In 1983’s “Staying Alive,” John Travolta’s Italian homeboy Tony Manero of 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever” has left Brooklyn for Manhattan, attempting to become a Broadway hoofer. In 2000, “Billy Elliot,” an 11-year-old from England’s coal country, wants to become a ballet dancer, much to the disgust of his father and older brother, miners both, who are worried he is gay.

“Flashdance,” another 1983 film, fit right into that mold. Jennifer Beals, in a breakout role, played Alex, an 18-year-old welder, in a Pittsburgh steel mill who aspires to become a professional dancer. At the beginning of the movie she has gotten no farther than Mawby’s, a local bar and grill that hosts a nightly cabaret, where she performs as an exotic dancer. She’s not a stripper, but her act greatly relies on sex appeal, such as having a bucket of water dumped on her in classic wet T-shirt fashion in the film’s famous “Chair Dance” scene.

In the end Alex is successful, earning a coveted spot in the fictional Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory.

Like “Staying Alive,” the film garnered generally horrible reviews – Roger Ebert had it joining “Staying Alive” on his “Most Hated” list. But thanks to a sexy Beals, some fantastic dance scenes, and songs such as “What a Feeling,” “Maniac,” “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Gloria,” “Flashdance” was a box office smash, earning $201.5 million on a $7 million investment.

So “Flashdance” was turned into a stage musical in 2008, opening in a 2008-09 tour of the United Kingdom, moving on to London’s West End and crossing the United States in a 2012-14 tour. It was supposed to hit Broadway in 2013, but its producers canceled, blaming a lack of available theaters in the fall.

There are many differences between the film and the musical. Mawby’s has become Harry’s Bar; the Pittsburgh Conservatory has become the Shipley Academy. Some of the film’s characters have been changed or combined. Songs are used in different contexts. Alex’s romance with the mill owner’s son remains central, but there are more subplots in the musical than in the movie.

Still, the hit songs remain, and the show is still filled with incredible dance numbers.

“Flashdance” the musical was treated much better than the movie by critics. London Theatre, for example, called the West End show “a slick and brilliantly-crafted production that’s hard to fault.” Theatreview said a New Zealand production provided “much to enjoy, even if you weren’t already aware of the iconic ‘Flashdance’ film.”

The key to the Surflight production will be the actress who plays Alex. Beals’ dance sequences in the movie were shot using body doubles. A male dancer, “Crazy Legs,” actually subbed for Beal during a breakdance segment; uncredited French actress Marine Jahan did most of Alex’s dancing.

That can’t happen onstage, so the Surflight actress will have her work cut out for her, although she will be helped by the fact that many of the film’s solo dances have been turned into production numbers.

On the other hand, that actress should have no problem projecting the nervousness Alex feels before her audition.

Tickets are $39 for adults and $29 for children 12 years of age and younger. They may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477, or at the box office, located at 201 Engleside Ave., Beach Haven.

Rick Mellerup


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