MTV and Flashdance were born one after the other — MTV in August 1981, Flashdance in April 1983. And if Flashdance seemed a hybrid of movie and music video, that’s exactly the daring way screenwriter Tom Hedley and director Adrian Lyne decided to tell the story of a Pittsburgh girl who worked in a steel mill by day and danced in a bar by night.
Flash forward three decades. A new iteration of that fairy tale, Flashdance the Musical, began a Broadway-bound national tour in (where else?) Pittsburgh in January. Beginning Tuesday, the show’s heroine will be dancing up a storm (and taking a nightly onstage shower) for two weeks at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Flashdance was inspired by the youthful adventures of Hedley and Canadian painter Robert Markle in Toronto and the gritty nearby steel town of Hamilton.
“Robert was frustrated at painting nudes in a studio. He wanted to see the bodies in motion,” says Hedley, a former Esquire editor and book publisher. “He found these neighborhood bars that had their own burlesques, with lighting and costumes, before porn and mob-owned bars came into the neighborhoods and changed them. He said, ‘This is my Sistine Chapel.’ We were regulars. We got to know all the girls.”
After Hedley dreamed up the story of a blue-collar woman driven by the desire to dance, he wangled a meeting with legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse, who thought Flashdance could work well on Broadway. But Hedley had already sold his story to Paramount, and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer made it their first collaboration.
Flashdance made a star of Jennifer Beals, who played welder-dancer Alexandra “Alex” Owens. It also, as Fosse had predicted, made a lot of money — raking in more than $150 million, becoming the third highest grossing movie of 1983 in the United States and selling more than 6 million copies of its Grammy Award-winning soundtrack.
After that success, and with Broadway’s growing appetite for turning hit movies into musicals, Hedley was approached more than once about creating a dance-driven stage production. Collaborating with composer Robbie Roth, writer-lyricist Robert Cary and director-choreographer Sergio Trujillo, he now has the musical he pitched to Fosse all those years ago.
The movie’s famous songs — Flashdance ... What a Feeling, Maniac, Gloria, Manhunt, I Love Rock ’n’ Roll — are all part of the show, along with 16 new songs by Roth and Cary. The love story between Alex and Nick, her boss at the steel mill, has been beefed up, and the cast of triple-threat actor-singer-dancers includes Emily Padgett in the intense leading role of Alex.
“Alex has these big dreams. She wants to succeed, but fear holds her back,” says Padgett, who relates to that feeling. “I fell in love with the show, but I wanted to run away from it too. ... Sergio is tough on me, but he believes in me more than I believe in myself. He knows what he wants. He’s like my coach, always three steps ahead of me.”
The busy Trujillo, choreographer for Jersey Boys, Memphis and the new musical Hands on a Hardbody, was hired to helm Flashdance the Musical because, says Hedley, “it was apparent to me that dance was the principal character in the show.”