The 1983 movie “Flashdance” wasn’t loved by film critics in its day—too much like music videos, they said. But the film grossed more than $100 million, and the soundtrack spawned a series of top ten hits and an Academy Award for Irene Cara’s “Flashdance—What a Feeling.”
Now “Flashdance” is a stage musical on a national tour before it transfers to Broadway later this year. Most musicals find their feet in a regional theater (Tony Award-winner “American Idiot” incubated at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, for example) before opening in a Broadway theater, then go on to a national tour if the show is a success. “Flashdance—The Musical” is taking the opposite route, producing a limited national tour first. Broadway in Louisville opens the show tonight, which runs in the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall through Sunday. The stage show features all of the hits from the film, plus sixteen new songs by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth.
An initial try-out in London closed to little fanfare in 2011, and the producers brought in director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo (“Jersey Boys,” “Memphis,” “Next to Normal”) to fine-tune the show.
“At that time, I thought the show needed a complete overhaul,” says Trujillo. “I asked the producers if they would be interested in considering starting from scratch. They took a chance to start from scratch, and that’s what they did.”
The musical’s book is co-written with Cary by Tom Hedley, one of the film’s screenwriters. “Flashdance” tells the story of Alex, a scrappy 18-year-old steel mill welder who dreams of becoming a professional dancer. Alex is an untrained natural talent who hones her craft not at ballet classes but on the stage of a Pittsburgh dive bar, combining avant garde performance with her own unique and sensual choreography. Expect some changes in the musical version, but Trujillo says the essential nature of the story won’t change.
“I didn’t think it was fair to stray too far away from what the original idea was because I think you have to give the audience what they expect and then sprinkle [changes] throughout the show,” he says. “It’s not like I’m doing an exact replica of the movie, but people who are fans of the movie will not be disappointed in terms of it offering up something entirely different.”
In the film, it took several body doubles—including one man—to make actress Jennifer Beals look like the best dancer in Pittsburgh, but in the stage musical, it’s all actress Emily Padgett acting, singing and yes, dancing Alex’s role. Trujillo says that while his musical captures more story than the film, it retains its quintessential 1980s look, feel and sound found in the dance sequences set in the neighborhood bar where Alex and her friends dance, which more closely resembled performance art than exotic dancing.
“In our show, it’s not quite as avant garde as they did in the movie,” says Trujillo. “What I did was inspire it from iconic figures from the Eighties, like Grace Jones, the Pointer Sisters, Tina Turner. I used those iconic women to borrow in terms of fashion and dance.”
But don’t expect a wink-wink Eighties parody lampooning the fashions and music of the time. Trujillo says the decade is just another period in which to set a story.
“I’m not sending the Eighties up in any way, shape or form,” he says. “The hair is the way it was in the Eighties, we’re not making it more cartoonish, which other shows have done. It was important to me to capture the period without commenting on it.”
Unlike similar underdog stories, Alex’s triumph at the end of the film isn’t being cast in a show or admitted to the prestigious conservatory after her genre-bending audition wows the stuffy ballet committee. The outcome of the audition isn’t delivered. She’s ecstatic because she overcame her internal obstacles and tackled her fear of failure head-on.
“One of the things we all face in pursuit of a dream or a goal is our fears. That can be come our worst enemy,” Trujillo says. “I think that’s what Alex goes through throughout the show. How can she conquer the fear and self-doubt?”
It’s a story that has personal resonance for Trujillo, too. He has fond memories of coming out of the movie theater after seeing “Flashdance” for the first time and dancing around the parking log.
“It was one of the first movies that I saw that inspired me to dance,” he says.
Like Alex, Trujillo took an unorthodox route to stardom. He started his formal training much later than most professionals and his career took off. Now an award-winning director and choreographer, it all started with a sabbatical from college at age 19.
“I was studying biochemistry, and then went to chiropractor school. I took a sabbatical to dance. I trained really hard, and at the end of that sabbatical, I got my first Broadway show,” he says. “[Alex] has a lot of natural talent, you can’t forget. You’re born with that talent and that’s natural God-given talent, that’s a gift.”
Preview the national tour production of “Flashdance—The Musical.”