BALTIMORE -- You can take "Flashdance" out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of ... you get the picture. In Baltimore on Feb. 16, with Ravens fans still enjoying their Super Bowl victory, there were no catcalls when lead character Alex appeared on stage in a Steelers T-shirt, and no apparent displeasure during songs such as "Steeltown Sky" or head-scratching when her dance-club manager used "yinz" in general conversation.
The show before a full house at the circa-1914 Hippodrome Theater (2,286 seats) was essentially the same as when it opened in Heinz Hall on the first of the year, with transitions tighter, movement bolder and no apparent glitches with the essential water scene.
The team behind "Flashdance the Musical" has taken a gamble that a new show can go on tour, work out the kinks in front of paying customers in 2,000-seat venues and work its way to New York.
When it comes to Broadway, though, there's no such thing as a sure bet. Even with a show that sports name recognition from a hit movie, the path from raising cash to smash or crash is paved with enough challenges and disappointments to discourage even the most avid gambler.
For example, Disney Theatrical's "The Lion King" became the highest grossing Broadway show of all time last April while the company's "Tarzan" was a multimillion-dollar flop in one year in New York. The title of a recent CNBC-TV documentary, "Betting Big on Broadway," drives home the point that for every "Lion King" or "Phantom of the Opera," there's a labor of love that falls short. Among the shows in its sights, the documentary followed producers of the dark comedy "Grace" from fundraising to Broadway. The play boasted star power in Paul Rudd, Ed Asner and Michael Shannon and had a modest Broadway run but never recouped its investments.
One point the documentary only hinted at is that even Broadway bombs don't necessarily die at detonation.
A slightly revamped "Tarzan" is in its fifth year in Germany, where it has become the top-grossing production of the musical in the world at more than $220 million, The New York Times reported in December.
Life after Broadway aside, a Times story last month reflected on the troubles of bringing musicals based on movies to New York. The focus was on the postponed Broadway debut of Sheryl Crow's adaptation of "Diner," and it mentioned delays that have hampered "Flashdance" as well.
"Raising money for Broadway still isn't back to the strong levels of pre-2008, and the reality is that it's harder to raise money for some musicals, because some musicals just aren't very good," producer Mark Routh told the Times. Regarding the $12 million "Flashdance," he said, "We're getting increasingly happy with the show artistically, and we're within spitting distance of having all our money."
More than a month into the tour, reviews for "Flashdance" have been mixed at best, with most touting the talent and the energetic blend of urban and classical dance by award-winning choreographer and first-time director Sergio Trujillo. Negatives have focused mostly on a lack of focus.
Tim Smith's review in the Baltimore Sun read, "Somewhere, a halfway decent adaptation of the 1983 hit movie 'Flashdance' is fighting to break away from the amiable, strongly performed mess of a show that has arrived at the Hippodrome." He echoed the complaint of Julie Newmark, critic of the St. Louis Dispatch, who wrote, " 'Flashdance' is a mess, a fairy tale that can't even hold on to a single point of view. ... You cannot fault [star Emily] Padgett or the rest of this disciplined cast. They give their well-trained all -- and their ensemble dances, when Alex takes to the Pittsburgh streets, are full of life. But the show, crammed with insipid new songs to augment the movie's handful of hits, makes practically no sense."
Shows like "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" and "The Addams Family" have endured similar critical blasts and have become fan favorites. "The Addams Family" national tour became an overall crowd-pleaser with a retooled plot and some songs added and subtracted.
Producers of "Flashdance the Musical" weren't ready to discuss potential changes to the show as it moved on to Tampa, Fla., last weekend, with 12 more cities to go before ending in Dallas July 7. Playbill.com continues to list it for an August opening on Broadway, with cast and theater TBA.
Mr. Trujillo addressed the negative reviews in a Baltimore Sun interview. " 'Wicked' didn't get great reviews, and look at how that ended up. I'm not saying this is another 'Wicked.' But you have to take the best you can from reviews. We are continuing to assess and work on the show."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. First Published March 3, 2013 5:00 AM