Oct. 9 2013 12:00 AM

Stage adaptation of ‘80s flick stuck in the past

Quick: You hear “Flashdance,” what do you think of? A hot brunette in a cutoff gray sweatshirt? The Academy Award-winning title song? A woman arched against a chair in profile, water gushing from the ceiling on her nubile hardbody? You bet your neon leg warmers you said yes to all of the above. Given the spate of screen-to-stage musical makeovers, adapting the 30-year-old source material with those elements firmly in place should have been a no-brainer.

So what went wrong with “Flashdance the Musical,” playing this week at the Wharton Center? Call it a reverse X-factor. The movie should have been a bomb but became a blockbuster, launching a fashion trend and winning an Academy Award (for best original song). The musical, though, should have been a smash, but it merely flickers when it had the potential to explode.

Jillian Mueller plays Alex Owens, a Pittsburgh steel mill worker by day and a “bar dancer” (read: stripper who keeps her clothes on) by night who dreams of getting into an exclusive dance academy. Her only problem is that she lacks a formal training; fortunately she has mentor, Hannah (Jo Ann Cunningham) to help her navigate the field, common sense aside.

The dancing works for the most part and blends naturally into the story. Alex’s life is dance and she’s always primed for a flash mob — and it fits. However, except for the songs pulled from the movie and a couple of original songs — notably, “Hannah’s Answer,” about what dance really means to someone who’s committed to it — most of the music falls flat.

But the biggest crime is that the show just isn’t … sexy. There is a notable lack of chemistry between the (very physically attractive) leads, which is the catalyst of the story. Alex initially spurns her boss, Nick (Cory Mach) despite an obvious attraction, but when she relents, it’s just weird; she goes from being stupid for rejecting a handsome, rich, charming man who’s nuts for her to being in love with a guy who tries to buy her way into dance school and fires one of her friends. In the end, it just feels like a flash in the pan.

“Flashdance the Musical”

Wharton Center Through Oct. 13 7:30 p.m. Wednesday- Thursday, Oct. 9-10; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 11-12; 2 p.m. Sat., Oct. 12; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oc.t 13 $32-$67 (800) WHARTON whartoncenter.com