FringeReview UK 2018
Directed by Hannah Chissick, Tom Hedley’s story is transferred by him and Robert Carey who co-writes the lyrics, and Robbie Roth who partners Carey and pens the often memorable numbers of this show. This latest production from Selladoor Productions, Runaway Entertainment boasts a West-End quality cast headed up by Joanne Clifton.
Matt Cole’s choreography is front and centre of a production that simply never stays still, which includes unusually for a touring musical an active set by Takis, lit by Andrew Ellis who peacocks everything with a laser-keen colour-range that doesn’t assault the eyes. George Carter’s band strums and punches its way into small acts of delicacy.
Joanne Clifton’s the big draw in this sizzling revival of the Musical of Flashdance, the gritty 1983 film of Pittsburgh wannabes poised between Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Fame, with Dirty Dancing just ahead. And however wonderful the company is, and they’re stunning, it’s Clifton who rightly steals the show. She’s virtually never off.
Pacily and cleanly directed by Hannah Chissick the musical’s an appealing compression of the film, and it’s partly down to Chissick never looks – as some musicals can – static or suddenly rather empty on stage. Tom Hedley’s story is transferred by him and Robert Carey who co-writes the lyrics, and Robbie Roth who partners Carey and pens the often memorable numbers of this show. This latest production from Selladoor Productions, Runaway Entertainment boasts a West-End quality cast headed up by Clifton as welder Alex Owens. Clifton sings resonantly too, as does the essentially non-dancing Ben Adams as her love interest Nick Hurley – here her boss’s son, not boss. Hollie Ann Lowe as second-string dancer Gloria, her Jimmy, stand-up flop Colin Kiyani are sharply characterful, as are a host of sharply-taken smaller roles. The story’s slightly slimmed which here is a bonus.
Matt Cole’s choreography is front and centre of a production that simply never stays still, which includes unusually for a touring musical an active set by Takis. Gantries, seats, beds, screens and neon-stripped joints lit by Andrew Ellis who peacocks everything with a laser-keen colour-range that doesn’t assault the eyes. It dazzles, never blinds. Cole’s work with the ensemble moves from shimmying fluidity to stomp and truly breathaking lifts and somersaults. George Carter’s band strums and punches its way into small acts of delicacy, on flute or sax, the orchestration occasionally more subtle than you’d expect.
It’s Clifton and Rikki Chamberlain’s gruff but golden Harry whose accents rip through the acetylene of this Germanic steeltown, beginning the powerful ‘What a Feeling’. It’s a touch worth noting: this isn’t east or west, or even Chicago and they should be congratulated. Alex dances at Harry’s club, almost the only family she has bar her friend Gloria. And her retired ballerina dance teacher Hannah, taken by Carol Ball with fetching warmth and conviction – she also portrays the frosty admission tutor for the dance school, head-to-toe in black.
So she’s none too pleased when boss’s son Nick bolts on to her, realising she’s an employee. More intimate numbers like ‘It’s in Reach’ justle with ‘Gloria’ and the famous ‘I love Rock and Roll’.
The pull between ambition and despair, patronage and independence is played out as on the one hand feisty Alex refuses sleazy CC (Matt Concannon) and his blandishments to dance as his racier club. Gloria, despairing of her prospects succumbs, especially after Jimmy temporarily deserts her for New York fame as a stand-up only to come back defeated.
Kiyani’s both personable and appealing as the flawed and slightly cowardly young man who finds himself and his courage in love, literally ‘Where I Belong’ which the four leads share. Lowe too projects a vulnerable defiance and warmth – particularly towards nurturing her friend’s talent – and a spiralling despair later on.
Meanwhile Alex and Gloria are rescued from CC and a henchman by Nick and a love affair starts. ’Here and Now’ showcases Clifton and Adams’ singing partnership, with its harmonic warmth and real chemistry.
Shame Nick can’t leave well alone, but his well-meaning interference complicates the plot – and that’s of course where his journey of redemption has to begin, not least since he’s unhappy at firing workers to reduce costs. If you don’t know the denouement, it’s overwhelming in a live production like this, and in particular this production.
Apart from the dark, desperate ‘Chameleon girls’ in CC’s club there’s memorable ensemble work, and such numbers s ‘A Million to One’ to counterpoint it, as ‘Where I belong’. The orchestration’s richer and classier in for instance the torch song ‘What a Feeling’ than simpler musicals, with a pulsing intro, and it’s a fine score overall, Carter’s band never too brash though some diction is occasionally lost: Adams, Ball, Chamberlain and Concannon particularly triumph over this.
There’s good cameos from Sasha Latoya, Rhodri Watkins and Alex Christian, with an ensemble totalling twenty. If named characters are memorable, particularly the main quartet and Adams’ warmly grounded singing, it’s Clifton’s night. A superlative choreographer in her own right, she lives Alex, dangerously pushing every routine with an extravagance, a hunger, sexiness and raw power that makes it one of the most memorable dance performances in a musical I’ve ever seen.