Attending the opening night of Flashdance: The Musical at the historic Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, New Jersey, I felt as if I were whisked back in time to 1983. There is an innocence in the production directed by Elizabeth Lucas, and that has to do with setting the play in the time the film Flashdance took place instead of today’s world dominated by social media.
Anyone who has seen the film will remember its iconic songs – “What a Feeling,” “Maniac,” “Flashdance,” “I Love Rock and Roll,” and “Gloria” – and they are all here along with original music from Robert Cary and Robbie Roth. The film’s screenwriter Tim Hedley co-wrote the book with Robbie Roth, and the story line stays pretty much true to the original; however, there are changes in the names of the bar, the dance academy, and some of the characters.
As in the original the main character is Alex Owens (a simply amazing Lexi Baldachino), an 18-year-old steelworker by day and an exotic dancer at Harry’s Bar (in the film it was Mawby’s) at night. Ms. Baldachino is more than up to the challenge of stepping into the great Jennifer Beals’ shoes.
The role is physically demanding – and Alex is in almost every scene. This part also calls on Baldachino not only to dance but to sing and act – and she does both outstandingly. Not to take anything away from Ms. Beals who was so memorable in the film, but she did no singing and much of her character’s dancing was done by uncredited Marine Jahan. That makes the achievement by Baldachino truly extraordinary.
Playing opposite her as male lead Nick Hurley, Logan Farine does some heavy lifting himself taking on the role played by Michael Nouri in the film. He comes off as younger and the story makes him less independently wealthy, and he’s worried about the company board and the approval of his father. A struggle to not lay off workers keeps Hurley busy, but not too much that he doesn’t notice Alex and start to pursue her.
In the beginning Alex wants no part of the rich boy who has had it easy all his life. In the film Hurley had to earn his wealth the hard way, but here the character is given everything on a silver platter. Farine achieves success in making Hurley seem earnest and caring about the workers in the plant, but especially Alex. There is a detectable amount of credible chemistry between Baldachino and Farine, and that cannot be said about leads in many plays and films these days.
The other characters are realized successfully as well. Richie in the film is now Jimmy (Ryan Moroney) who wants to be a standup comic, and his girlfriend Jeanie is now Gloria (Crista Steiner) who doesn’t go anywhere near an ice-skating rink but is instead one of the exotic dancers at Harry’s. Steiner has an incredible voice, and all of the supporting cast displays a wide range of talent that is most impressive.
Johnny C. – the main antagonist from the film – is now C.C. (Elijah Vazquez) who runs the strip club and continually tries to recruit Alex and Gloria to work there. Just as in the film, a clear distinction is drawn between Alex working as an exotic dancer – which certainly relies upon the dancer’s sex appeal – and working as a stripper, for Alex that only has to do with sex and nothing to do with her art.
One of Alex’s key relationships in the film remains important here – her reliance on aging former ballerina Hannah (deliciously played by Sally Ann Swarm). Swarm makes every line zing, and we come to understand why Hannah’s mentoring and friendship is crucial by inspiring Alex to apply to Shipley Academy to fulfill her dreams.
There are some other differences between the play and the film, but I am not going to spoil things here. The play succeeds on many levels and leaves you wanting to be a member of the Alex fan club – and the Baldachino fan club as well. In the end you will want to stand up with the cast after the curtain calls to sing and dance your way out the door.
The production is nothing less than Broadway caliber – but in an intimate theater setting. Choreographer Michael A. Blackmon has done a phenomenal job, and Musical Director Nicholas Kaminski has made certain that every number packs a wallop. The choice of using minimal sets makes sense for the many scenes set in different locations, and the actors do a flawless job of moving everything around without any intrusion on the scene taking place.
Of course, the setting of a play at the Surflight Theatre – just a block from the beautiful azure waters of Beach Haven – is an ideal one. This is Surflight’s 70th year, and they have been back in business since 2016 after being decimated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The building itself is an homage to theater and those who perform and audiences who love seeing plays. Everyone from the ticket takers to refreshment counter to the actors themselves are cheerleaders for all the wonderful things that theater represents.
After the show the cast actually comes out into the courtyard and mingles with the audience – how’s that for interactive theater? Right across the way is the famous Show Place Ice Cream Parlour that has takeout windows in the courtyard for a refreshing treat after the show, but why not go around and sit down for a treat in the throwback to the ice cream parlors of old?
The Show Place is famous for its singing and dancing servers. Seating is hourly starting at 6pm, but the windows are open at noon. After you are seated and you order is taken, the servers will come with your cold treats – the ice cream here is old time delicious – and they will also choose guests to sing based on a particular order. One guest who ordered cherry vanilla ice cream was asked to stand and sing “Cherry Baby” based on the old Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ hit.
Surflight runs its Children’s Theatre all summer long with shows starting at 6 pm. Cinderella is the current show to be followed by Little Mermaid and Peter Pan. It is wonderful to cater to the cultural needs of the community, and why not start the kids’ love of theater off as early as possible?
The total experience at the Surflight and Show Place is so memorable and fulfilling. It is worth a trip to Beach Haven just to see a show because of the production quality, but the town itself is a lovely place with quaint streets filled with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. There is also Fantasy Island – a small amusement park and there are several mini-golf options as well. It is a family friendly town with a lovely pure white sand beach that is enough of a reason to take a journey there by itself. Beach Haven is two and a half hours by car from New York City.
Flashdance: The Musical runs until July 14, 2019. The next production is Mamma Mia! and it opens July 16, 2019. Of course, we will be going back to see it.
Please check out Al Parinello interviewing Surflight’s Producing Artistic Director Steve Steiner: