When I reviewed the low-budget movie “Flashdance” in April 1983, I had no idea it would become a box-office phenomenon — the third top-grossing film of its year.
“ ‘Flashdance’ could become a new synonym for ‘vacuous,’ ” I wrote. “It’s the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy, a bubble gum movie with artificial flavoring and almost no taste.”
I was hardly alone. Leonard Maltin was appalled by “the stupidest story this side of Busby Berkeley,” while Trevor Johnston proclaimed that “there’s absolutely nothing to it.”
Most of the dancing was done not by the star, Jennifer Beals, but by French choreographer Marine Jahan (uncredited). The title tune won an Oscar, the soundtrack took a Grammy, and Beals’ provocative way with a sweatshirt started a fashion trend.
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Certainly no one expected that the 96-minute film would eventually be re-created on stage as “Flashdance: The Musical,” or that what started as an “MTV Musical” would expand on stage to two hours and 35 minutes and feature several songs that were recently written for the show.
The result, which is playing through Sunday at the Paramount, is a peculiar mixture of bloat and vigor — more honest than the movie (the dances cannot be faked), more concerned with supporting characters and less able to streamline what has by now become an unwieldy narrative.
As Alex, a daytime welder who works at night as a bar dancer, Emily Padgett can do it all.
Expressively singing, dancing and hoping to land a dance-academy audition, she suggests the spirit of unintimidated youth.
A star in a starring role, Padgett nevertheless doesn’t feel the need to dominate the show. It’s her gig, and she’s generous enough to share it with Matthew Hydzick (as Alex’s infatuated boss), Kelly Felthous (Alex’s best friend) and David R. Gordon (the best friend’s boyfriend).
Trouble is, the more time we spend with these people, the more shopworn the writing becomes. Especially during the second half, when everything’s building up to the big number (“What a Feeling”), the songs feel like speed bumps.
And the script begins to resemble a rehash of “The Pajama Game,” with its romantic pairing of factory boss and union representative. See it for the expert performances, and try not to think about the rest.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org