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1980s clichés part of the fun of ‘Flashdance’

There’s a lot to like in “Flashdance: The Musical.”

The leads both have Broadway experience and the talent that goes with it. There are outstanding supporting characters and the men’s ensemble in particular is strong. The dancing is fun and the music is upbeat.

Sure, it’s not Shakespeare, but what do you expect from a musical based on a lightweight 1983 movie?

The national touring show, which opened Thursday in Spokane as the final entry in this year’s Best of Broadway series, tells the story of Alex, a Pittsburgh steelworker and exotic dancer who dreams of the ballet.

“Flashdance” is not drenched in the 1980s. There are the iconic legwarmers and torn sweatshirts, made famous by the movie. There’s a passing reference to Madonna and a number, “Chameleon Girls,” clearly inspired by the “Material Girl” video. A quote from “Eye of the Tiger” during a shadow boxing scene is a nice touch. That they incorporate some of the dance moves featured in the movie – and seen in heavy rotation on MTV – is a nice bonus for fans.

But aside from the hit songs from the movie – “Maniac” and the Oscar-winning “What a Feeling” (yes, “Flashdance” won an Academy Award) – the only other recognizable ’80s songs are “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Gloria.” And the costumes of leading man Nick don’t seem decade-specific. It was only at the end, when Nick came onstage wearing an Izod polo shirt, that his clothes seemed right. Get him a skinny tie and he’ll look more realistic.

That is, of course, a minor complaint. There are bigger problems.

Things don’t really begin to click until more than halfway through the first act, with the number “Justice,” featuring Nick and the men’s ensemble. That leads quickly into another great number, “I Love Rock and Roll,” featuring Alex’s friend Tess (Rachelle Rak).

Soon, however, we get to “Manhunt,” which left me confused. The number features Kiki (DeQuinna Moore) dressed like Grace Jones. Moore’s performance is fantastic. She is a strong dancer and a gifted singer. But she performs the number with several male dancers. At first, the guys look like they’re wearing bondage gear – black strips of fabric around their legs, with the same strips across their faces. It didn’t make any sense. Then I notice, what are those manes on their heads? Are these guys supposed to be … zebras? In Pittsburgh? That made even less sense than the bondage gear.

The two strongest singers are Moore and Matthew Hydzik as Nick. Hydzik, who played Tony in “West Side Story” on Broadway, is a perfectly charming leading man.

Emily Pagett, in dark, Jennifer Beals-esque curls, brings a nice singing voice and some fine dance skills to her role. She also played Sherrie in “Rock of Ages” on Broadway.

The “Rock of Ages” connection here seems appropriate. The two shows have a lot in common. Both are set in seedy 1980s nightclubs whose existences are threatened. Both feature love stories derailed (temporarily, at least) by misunderstanding and conflicting dreams. Both even open the second acts inside strip clubs.

But while “Rock of Ages” is about the ’80s, glorifies it, parodies it, that’s not the case with “Flashdance.” Instead, “Flashdance” seems more timeless, less rooted in the decade of greed. “Flashdance” is also less hedonistic than “Rock of Ages,” although with its setting in exotic dance clubs, it’s hardly “The Sound of Music.”

Still, it offers up some fine singing and dancing, some great performances and a story that’s not afraid to admit that it’s all a bit clichéd.

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