"Flashdance the Musical" wants to make sure you know it's set in the 1980s.
Before the curtain rises on the touring show, which opened Tuesday in Orlando, projected images show the audience such '80s icons as Donna Summer, Madonna and Olivia Newton-John in her famed "Physical" music video.
Like its namesake 1983 movie, the inconsistent stage show reflects the decade — for better or worse. At its best, "Flashdance the Musical" puts a new twist on theatrical staples as the love duet or the comic song. But, all too often, it's showing '80s attitude at its worst — style over substance, where looks are of primary importance and genuine emotion comes a distant second.
Oh, we see leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts. The film's hit songs — "Maniac," "Manhunt," "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" — get fun music-video treatment with '80s-inspired choreography.
But what comes up short is the show's heart.
The plot follows the basic outline of the movie. Tough-talking Alex, short for Alexandra, is a welder by day in a Pittsburgh steel mill and an exotic dancer by night. Her dancing, though, is more of the burlesque variety — the sleazier stripping takes place at a rival club.
Alex dreams of studying at a prestigious dance academy. But without any formal training, her dream seems out of reach — until she becomes involved with Nick, heir to the steel mill where she works.
Despite the production's feel-good 1980s touches — the giant boom boxes, the moon walking — the show can't avoid creating an uncomfortable feeling of workplace harassment in these modern times. Nick is in essence Alex's boss — he's even addressed that way — so when he badgers her for a date, it's a little creepy.
Luckily, the ick factor is mitigated by the charisma of leads Jillian Mueller and Corey Mach. Mueller gives Alex the right amount of spunk, though the script waits far too long to reveal her vulnerable edges. Mach puts both fighting spirit and an appealing aw-shucks sense of humor into rich guy Nick, although giving him sharper dimensions earlier on would make him more sympathetic.
In the supporting roles, DeQuina Moore is a breath of fresh air as sassy Kiki, another exotic dancer, and Jo Ann Cunningham has a nice turn as Alex's sharp-tongued mentor.
The show, though, remains fuzzy all around: lines and plot points feel illogical, too many times the characters break into song to repeat what the audience already knows.
The poster for "Flashdance" trumpets "What a feeling!" — lyrics from the chorus of the hit title tune. But the dominant feeling for theatergoers is likely to be frustration. The show has many of the necessary elements for success, including its uplifting message. But unlike in Alex's happy ending, "Flashdance" never reaches its full potential.
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'Flashdance the Musical'
• Length: 2:40, including intermission
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, Dec. 6; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8
• Tickets: $38.50-$75.50
• Call: 407-246-4262
• Online: Orlandobroadway.com