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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Flashdance’ certainly plays up flash

The big-ticket musical is playing at Appleton’s PAC.

PHOTO: “Flashdance the Musical” re-creates this image performance after performance.

APPLETON, Wis., (WFRV) – I had a conversation with my other self about “Flashdance the Musical” that’s playing through Sunday, Nov. 17, at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Info: www.foxcitiespac.com.

Self: Those performers sure pour on the energy in the 2½-hour show. It’s a tiger of a role for the leading woman – singing and dancing at full force.

Other self: Sure, but I was bored by the story. The heir of a Pittsburgh steel mill instantly falls in love with a tough-talking woman welder who dances sexy dances in a struggling club by night and wants to be a classical dancer. Come on.

Self: All the important songs from the 1983 movie are in the show – “Maniac,” “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “Gloria” and “What a Feeling.” They’re played up big, with spectacular light displays and big-time dance moves by the ensemble and by Jillian Mueller as Alex, the welding lady.

Other self: Mueller has a double for part of “Maniac.” The double has the exact body build, and she whips through frenetic dance moves with her back to the audience. She covers her face in spins. She’s wearing the same type dark outfit that Mueller wears to open the scene. Then, presto, the scene shifts to Alex dressed in a boxer outfit to crank out the moves to end “Maniac” at a fever pitch.

Self: The reprise of “Maniac” that ends the first half is impressive. People have in their mind the picture from the poster with a silhouetted dancer arching her back as water splashes down on her from above. The show builds to that moment – dance like crazy, get to chair on back-lighted stage, arch back, whoosh, water gushes and splashes. The mind has an indelible snapshot image. Stage goes black. End of Act I.

Other self: Mueller also sings high-intensity songs. Some are right after strenuous dances. She’s got to be in tremendous shape to dance and, snap, turn around and sing, in character. Any bets she doesn’t smoke.

Self: Costumes are eye catching. All the dancers, all the changes, all the frills, the colors, the fits. Wow.

Other self: The show has an unmistakable level of sensuality. Bodies are lean and limber, with muscles toned and in the right places. Some cups run over suggestively.

Self: There’s a love story. Nick Hurley, whose grandfather owns the steel mill, has come to the mill to learn the ropes. He sees Alex. As quick as you can say Romeo and Juliet, he’s after her. Eventually, they become a number. Corey Mach is good as the angst-filled Nick, who tries to be a nice guy for Alex (in wrong ways) and looks for ways to rescue the mill from cutbacks.

Other self: OK, the movie came out in 1983. I think we all know what happened to American manufacturing. So is “Flashdance the Musical” nostalgic? And for what –the one-time fun of MTV music videos and high-rev songs or failing industry, club dancing and strip joints?

Self: It’s showbiz. It’s a chance to see glitz, hear some popular songs and experience live dancers with a whole lotta moves. It’s exciting.

Other self: It was exciting going to the box office and getting my ticket for row V. Ninety bucks. It sure costs a lot to see one of these large-cast touring shows. For 90 bucks, I get to be picky.

Self: Aside from Mueller/Alex, there are other wiry singer-dancers in the story. DeQuina Moore (Kiki) and Alison Ewing (Tess) are Alex’s somewhat floozy friends at Harry’s club. Each has featured segments. Moore smokes in “Manhunt.”

Other self: Ginna Claire Mason plays Gloria, the sweet young thing gone wrong. She sells her soul for a glimpse of “glory” at the strip joint C.C.’s. Poor thing, her boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon), has left her to chase his dream in New York, and what’s a girl to do but listen to and take cocaine from sleazy C.C. By the way, Christian Whelan makes C.C. my favorite character. Seedy does the day for me.

Self: Jo Ann Cunningham is another actor with veteran touches as she plays Hannah, Alex’s aging mentor. In her, the creators of this show (Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, book; Robbie Roth, music; and Cary and Roth, lyrics) put together what’s great about music theater. In one song, “Hannah’s Answer,” which is maybe four minutes long, we find out about her life, her philosophy and mental and physical ups and downs of being a dancer.

Other self: The show is a rock opera. Between the stand-alone songs from the Top 10, the characters are developing the story by singing it. In opera, it’s called the libretto. The singing doesn’t necessarily have pop song hooks.

Self: Four stars out of five.

Other self: Maybe three stars out of five.

Self: It was interesting on opening night that the audience reserved its standing ovation for Mueller. She’s a heck of a dancer/character player/singer. We saw her in one performance. There’s the next and the next and the next and the next… Whew.

Other self: What happens to Alex? She’s a maverick. She’s mouthy. She’s headstrong. She’s got her shot at making it in the fancy dance academy, which demands discipline and cooperation. If the creators had heaps of guts, they’d flash forward from 1983 to 2013 and tell us what Alex is up to today.

MILESTONE: The PAC will mark its reaching its 2 millionth ticketed patron level today, Wednesday, Nov. 13. There will be an extra buzz with pre-show activities, including “an awesome ’80s dance party” in the adjacent Kimberly-Clark Theatre.

NOTABLE NOTES: Joe Eszterhas, who wrote the screenplay with Tom Hedley, was named a few years ago to write a script for a movie about the famous Ice Bowl game of the Green Bay Packers. It never happened. Sergio Trujillo, choreographer for “Flashdance the Musical,” also choreographed the Broadway production of “Memphis,” the touring version of which recently played the PAC. 

VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level,   a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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