Arts & Culture

Review: Macchio captivates in ‘Flashdance the Musical’

“Flashdance” is Julia Macchio’s musical stage debut.
“Flashdance” is Julia Macchio’s musical stage debut. Courtesy of Christopher Ash

There’s less dance than you might expect in “Flashdance the Musical,” the stage version of the iconic, style-setting 1983 Adrian Lyne movie.

But that’s probably for an entirely practical reason. When composer Robbie Roth and lyricist Robert Cary added 16 new songs to five from the movie, including “Maniac,” “Gloria” and the Oscar-winning “Flashdance: What a Feeling,” it would have been nearly impossible for the lead to sing a lot and still keep up with the hard-charging, running-in-place, wildly over-the-top movements that made a star of Jennifer Beals (and her body double Marine Jahan).

Sure, there are some lesser ensemble dances from director/choreographer Paul Stancato that tend to be routine Broadway fare, with performers ending up in a line stretched across the stage and playing directly to the audience.

But the good stuff, the explosive, creative exuberance from the lead character as she grits it out with a combination of club and street rhythms for a crucial three-minute audition to a prestigious dance academy, is saved – almost hoarded – for near the end. It’s exciting but leaves you wanting more.

Julia Macchio (daughter of Ralph “Karate Kid” Macchio) is a captivating presence somewhere between spunky and fierce as Alexandra “Alex” Owens, a girl with an uncertain past who works as a machine shop welder by day and a club dancer by night. Her dream is to be a graceful ballerina, and her goal is to save up to get into a snooty local dance academy despite her lack of pedigree.

Macchio, a classically trained dancer since age 5, has a sturdy singing voice that has a compelling emotional edge with a subtle, smoky vibrato that is more country than Broadway. She doesn’t sound like a Disney princess, rather an authentic, streetwise soul. She also has the power to belt and snap you to attention. Her solo “It’s All in Reach” is a wistful wish, and her “Let Go” becomes a compelling anthem.

Playing Alex’s antagonist – and eventual romantic interest – is Ryan Neal Green as Nick Hurley, the grandson of the steel plant owner where Alex works. As a privileged rich kid, he represents everything she resents. But he’s the black sheep of the family, and they find a curious common ground in being outsiders together.

Green has a nice high tenor put to good use when he vocally spars with Alex in a number of duets, from “Deal Breaker” to “Here and Now.” Their harmonies challenge and strengthen each other.

There is a secondary story about the on-again, off-again relationship between Alex’s friend Gloria (Hannah K. MacDonald), a ditsy blonde whose big dream is to dance in an MTV video, and Jimmy (Nic Casaula), a klutzy club comic with no sense of timing. They are sometimes comic relief, but when their storyline turns to drugs and human trafficking, they become dramatically under foot a bit too much, distracting from (and nearly upstaging) the Alex/Nick story.

The surprisingly versatile set from Christopher Ash begins as the dingy gray interior of a steel plant with corrugated metal walls. Through a combination of clever projections and creative lighting, it becomes a canvas for every needed location, from strip clubs to snooty dance studio to even a leafy green park. It’s beautifully colorful and evocative.

‘Flashdance the Musical’

What: Theater League offering of 2008 stage adaptation of the hit 1983 movie about a welder who dreams of a dancing career

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Additional performances: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu.

Tickets: $35-$70, 316-303-8100 or www.wichitatix.com

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