Review: Flashdance, Sunderland Empire, until September 16

Joanne Clifton as Alex Owens
Joanne Clifton as Alex Owens

Do sparks fly in this new take on the much-loved story of welder-cum-dancer Alex Owens?

Pulling on her leg warmers in the central role in this chick flick classic is Joanne Clifton. She comes to the new tour packing some dance clout as the reigning Strictly Come Dancing professional champion.

And it’s clout you need if you’re going to take on some of the most iconic dance scenes of the ‘80s.

Fuelled by nostalgia, fans of the film won’t be disappointed with the plot which follows the same thread as its 1983 namesake. But it’s also been injected with a darker sub plot of Alex’s best friend Gloria, played charmingly by Hollie-Ann Lowe, whose seedy nightclub dancing leads her down the path of class A drugs. (As such, there’s an age guidance of eleven plus on the show.)

Heroine Alex is in no danger of dabbling with drugs, she’s far too spunky for that, and though Joanne’s dancing abilities were never going to be in doubt, she also acted well, imbuing the character with the tomboyish charm which made her so endearing in the original.

Touching scenes with her mentor Hannah, played with palpable warmth by Carol Ball, also help to bring out the struggles wannabe dancer’s face in pursuit of their passion.

Ben Adams as Nick Hurley

Ben Adams as Nick Hurley

Alex’s main squeeze, Nick Hurley, is played by Ben Adams of A1 fame whose vocals were the most outstanding on the night. His background of boy band ballads came in handy for the slower numbers such as Here and Now and Hang On and he really managed to draw out the emotions in the songs.

It is of course the fast-paced numbers, however, which will attract people to this show and the well-known tracks are the ones that pack the most punch.

As soon as those familiar opening notes of Maniac kick in, it brings back all those memories of back combing your barnet and pulling on an over-sized grey sweatshirt in a failed attempt to look like Jennifer Beals. The famous water scene is also pulled off with panache to close Act 1.

However, it wasn’t one of the heroine’s numbers which stole the show for me, but that of I Love Rock and Roll performed with eye-watering flexibility by Demmileigh Foster as Tess. She performed it with a real raw power that made me wishing she had more numbers in the show.

I’d expected the famous climatic audition for Shipley Dance Academy to be the stand out moment, but it fell a little flat for me. Though Joanne certainly gave it her all, performing with faultless footwork and abs of steel to the infectiously toe-tapping What a Feeling, I missed the interaction with the stuffy panel which made it so iconic in the film, while the introduction of the other dancers just a couple of minutes in jarred with one of the most famous solo dance scenes from the silver screen.

Still, it had everyone up on their feet and nicely segued into a megamix. It’s not quite a ten from Len, but it’s a good seven.