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'Flashdance — The Musical' debuts in its native Pittsburgh

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 10:46 a.m.
The cast of 'Flashdance -- The Musical' takes a curtain call after Thursday's performance at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Larry Rippel

REVIEW

There's a lot of Pittsburgh pride bound up in “Flashdance — The Musical,” which officially opened Thursday at Heinz Hall as a presentation of PNC Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh.

Producers chose to hold its world premiere and tour launch here, and the play is set in Pittsburgh.

Two actors in prominent roles — Matthew Hydzik and Rachelle Rak — were born and bred in the 'Burgh.

Like the iconic 1983 movie that was filmed here, the town's grit and greenery is shown to good advantage, thanks to Klara Zieglerova's colorful, swiftly changing scenic designs.

The production might downplay the story's original mid-'80s period and allow the show to be sprinkled with verbal and visual anachronisms. But Tom Hedley and Robert Cary's script captures the language and independent, spunky, self-reliant nature of the era's residents who worked in the steel mills and drank in the bars.

At its core is a pleasant, upbeat but unsurprising story about Alex, a feisty, independent woman with a day job as a welder in a steel plant. She spends her evenings dancing in a local bar that's classier than the strip club down the block. The women are in control, creating and performing their dance routines that are imaginative and sexually provocative.

However, Alex's real dream is to become a classical ballet dancer, an ambition she feels is beyond her reach.

Actress Emily Padgett neatly and appealingly captures Alex's self-reliant, realistic spirit while remaining charmingly upbeat and hopeful. She's a versatile, energetic dancer who can breakdance as well as pirouette neatly.

She's more than a match for Hydzik's Nick Hurley, whose advances she initially rejects because he's her employer.

She and Hydzik have a nice chemistry and make an attractive couple, although Hydzik looks far too young to be wearing double-breasted jackets and running a steel mill.

The show's weakest link is the score.

Energy and interest levels too often drop as singers reveal their inner emotions in heartfelt-but-lackluster songs such as “Dealbreaker,” “Justice” and “Hang On.”

It's much more fun to watch the colorful, over-the-top dance numbers in which Padgett's Alex and her three pals Kiki (DeQuina Moore), Gloria (Kelly Felthous) and Tess (Rachelle Rak) don costume designer Paul Tazewell's elaborate, vibrant, suggestively sensual costumes for dance-club numbers, most notably “Maniac,” Moore's “Manhunt” and Rak's assertive near-showstopper “I Love Rock And Roll.”

Director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo also deserves much credit for keeping the show's pacing swift and clear as it moves between an abundance of locations.

He succeeds at showcasing the dance skills of principal players and ensemble dancers who can moonwalk, pole dance and glissade with equal grace and ability.

It's important to keep in mind that this is a brand-new musical and the performances here are the first in a national tour. So, despite its Pittsburgh world premiere, “Flashdance — The Musical” is somewhat like the characters we see onstage: a show that is still in the process of achieving its dream.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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