Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of The Color Purple and Tootsie

Zach Perrin, Liz Fallon, and Cast
Photo by Nader Abushhab
It's either a testament to the lasting impression of the films of the 1980s or possibly that there are no original stories left to tell, but in the past week I saw and reviewed four musicals that were based on hit movies from the 1980s. The stage musical of Flashdance, a far cry from the beautiful musical adaptation of The Color Purple (currently at Phoenix Theatre Company), is more on par with the semi-successful, but also somewhat problematic, stage versions of Tootsie and An Officer and a Gentleman, whose national tours were in town last week. Arizona Broadway Theatre is presenting the local premiere of the show in a production in which the supporting cast and creative elements somewhat outshine the leads.

Set in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, Flashdance tells the fairly simple story of Alex, who makes ends meet as a welder by day and a "flashdancer" in a local club at night, but who dreams of going to a prestigious dance academy and becoming a professional dancer. Alex's romantic relationship with her wealthy boss at the factory, Nick Hurley, threatens to get in the way of her dream. It's an inspiring story about Alex and her hopes and dreams, plus a few supporting characters who also have ambitions and stumble on the way to achieving their personal goals.

While the plot of the stage show is almost identical to the 1983 film screenplay, the disjointed book by Tom Hedley (who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Eszterhas) and Robert Cary has several plot holes, jumps in time that aren't clear, and a few scenes that are head-scratchers. For example, while Alex and her two dancing co-workers at the club, Gloria and Kiki, claim they are "friends to the end," when Gloria goes to work at a rival club just a few blocks away, Alex has no idea what happened to her for a long stretch of the show. Nick is the son of the steel mill's wealthy owner, and Alex's co-workers resent and ridicule him, yet they also go out drinking with him and to the club where Alex works. At first, Alex is too proud to date the wealthy Nick, even though he is smitten with her, but we never truly see why she changes her mind. There are also many cliches and repetitive statements about striving for one's dreams that gets a little over the top at times.

The songs include the best-selling film soundtrack's Oscar-winning "Flashdance ... What a Feeling," "Maniac" and "Manhunt," plus "Gloria," and "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." Combining these well-known hit pop tunes with a mostly forgettable original score, with music by composer Robbie Roth and lyrics by Cary and Roth, means the songs for the show aren't always cohesive, although the orchestrations do their best to make them all sound similar.

Director Courtney Laine Self does as good a job as possible attempting to navigate through the script's inconsistencies and her choreography is fun and upbeat. It's just a shame that a couple of the film's iconic moments, such as when one of Alex's solo dances ends with her getting drenched from a bucket of water overhead, are only given a few seconds of stage time. Self's staging makes good of Douglas A. Clarke's impressive two-story, metal set, which has a nice surprise of its own toward the end of the show. Jaron Hermanson's varied lighting is great and the costumes from Carter Conaway are a fun mix of '80s styles and flashy. Chris Zizzo's wig designs are impressive, including a signature long curly style for Alex that echoes Jennifer Beals' hair in the film.

Liz Fallon has been in numerous ABT shows, including excellent work as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and, earlier this season, a stellar Roxie in Chicago. While she's a good dancer and a talented singer, her portrayal of Alex is a bit too rough and not entirely believable as a young innocent dreamer. Even though Fallon has good comic timing, which works well for the moments when she comically rebuffs Nick's advances, and the audience roots to see Alex succeed, her performance comes across more as the wise-talking Roxie Hart then an 18-year-old girl who works two jobs to make ends meet. With a nice singing voice and good stage presence, Zach Perrin is fine as Nick Hurley. However, I don't know if it's due to the poor script or the direction, but, like Fallon, his portrayal sometimes seems to be going against what you'd think it should be. He occasionally seems more like a co-worker of Alex who has a crush on her and not the polished, suave, and wealthy owner's son who is used to getting what he wants.

Fortunately, the supporting cast all create believable characters. Carly Caviglia is very good as one of Alex's co-workers, the likable Gloria, and Jake Goz is charming as her boyfriend Jimmy, who aspires to be a comedian. Caviglia and Goz form a winning, realistic duo. As Alex's two other co-workers, Kiki and Tess, Blair Beasley and Samantha Ross deliver killer performances of "Manhunt" and "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," respectively. Claudia Unger is perfect as Hannah, Alex's mentor and former dancer, and Harley Barton is wonderful as both Hannah's caretaker, the wise-talking Louise, and the prim and proper Ms. Wilde, who manages the Shipley Academy of Dance that Alex dreams of attending. Darren Friedman and Tyler Mell are good as the two dance club owners, the warm Harry and the slimy CC, respectively.

Like the film, the musical adaptation of Flashdance tells a blue-collar Cinderella story that also touches upon themes of female empowerment, making sacrifices to achieve your dreams, and how a close-knit group of friends can come together to help each other succeed. It's just a shame the book and score aren't as good as other film to stage musical adaptations and that none of the new songs rise to the well-known film ones.

Flashdance runs through April 24, 2022, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or by calling 623-776-8400.

Direction/Choreography: Courtney Laine Self
Music Direction: Mark Galinovsky
Scenic Design: Douglas A. Clarke
Lighting Design: Jaron Hermanson
Sound Design: Jesse Worley
Costume Design: Carter Conaway
Wig Design: Chris Zizzo
Props: Natalie Ward
Production Stage Manager: Leigh Treat
Production Coordinator: Jamie Hohendorf-Parnell
Associate Artistic Director: Kurtis Overby
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting & Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Alex Owens: Liz Fallon
Nick Hurley: Zach Perrin
Kiki: Blair Beasley
Tess: Samantha Ross
Gloria: Carly Caviglia
Jimmy: Jake Goz
Hannah: Claudia Unger
Louise / Ms. Wilde: Harley Barton
Harry: Darren Friedman
CC: Tyler Mell
Joe/ Ensemble: Nicholas Cabral
Andy / Ensemble: Gino Bloomberg
Ensemble: Alyssa Ishihara, Wolfe Lanier, Theresa Alexander, Miguel Angel Almanzar, Alexia Lorch, Taylor Lloyd
Swing: Delaney Spanko