PITTSBURGH -- Thirty years after the movie Flashdance introduced a sexy welder who dreamed of being a dancer, leg warmers as a fashion accessory and chart-topping songs like “What a Feeling" and "Maniac," Flashdance - The Musical is bringing the 1980s back. A national tour of the musical launches Jan. 1 in Pittsburgh, where the 1983 movie was filmed, and a second company arrives on Broadway later next year.
With much fanfare Friday, Nov. 9 in the city where it all began, director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo -- choreographer of Tony-winners Jersey Boys and Memphis -- introduced the tour stars: Pittsburgh natives Rachelle Rak as sassy Tess and Matthew Hydzik as leading man Nick, along with Emily Padgett as Alex Owens. Jennifer Beals was the original Alex, a blue-collar worker who longs to be taken seriously as a dancer. She becomes romantically entangled with Nick (the Michael Nouri role in the film), her boss and the son of a steel magnate.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl delivered a proclamation that Jan. 1, 2013, is Flashdance Day in Pittsburgh, setting the stage for the trio of Broadway veterans to perform four numbers at Heinz Hall, the ornate home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and site of the tour launch.
The musical includes 14 new songs and is a completely different show than the Flashdance that toured the United Kingdom and spent some time in the West End a few years back. The new musical features music by Robbie Roth, lyrics by Robert Cary and Roth and a book by Tom Hedley, co-writer of the original screenplay. Songs from the Grammy-winning film soundtrack include “Flashdance -- What a Feeling,” “Maniac,” “Gloria” and “Manhunt.”
Taking its Pittsburgh film roots to heart, Trujillo showed screen shots of set designs that pay homage to Pittsburgh's hard-knock industrial life in the 1980s and the more than 400 bridges along the city's three rivers.
Rak, whose nickname is Sas, left Pittsburgh as a teenager when she won a role in a national tour of Cats. Last seen on Broadway in Catch Me If You Can, Rak connected with her Flashdance director when both were cast members of Fosse in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “I knew then if I became a director I would cast her in a show,” Trujillo said.
The director had seen Padgett (Legally Blonde, Grease, Rock of Ages on Broadway) at auditions for other shows and was confident she could sing and act, but he didn’t know if she had all the right moves for a role that, in the movie, was created with quick cuts and a half-dozen dancers.
“We worked together for four hours, and many bumps and bruises later, I knew I had my Alex,” he said.
Trujillo boasted that the movie version of Flashdance, which Hedley first pitched as a stage musical "before Hollywood got hold of it," changed the possibilities for dance on screen and made people aware of Pittsburgh as prime spot for location film shoots. It also changed the course of his life.
“I went to the University of Toronto for science, and I did study to be a biochemist, I did get a degree in sciences,” he said. “But I decided to be dancer because of the movie, and here I am today.”
Flashdance -- The Musical follows a different course to Broadway than most shows, which normally go through workshops and rehearsals and preview in one, perhaps two cities, before arriving in New York.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” said Hydzik, who was the replacement Tony in the most recent Broadway revival of West Side Story. “A lot of times when shows come to Broadway, they preview in Chicago or D.C. for a while, but this show is ready to go. … We’re going to travel around to a couple of cities, show the world what we’ve got, and then it's on to Broadway.”
The tour, with dates scheduled into the summer 2013, moves from Pittsburgh Jan. 1-6 to St. Louis, and on to stops including Atlanta, Baltimore, Nashville, Minneapolis, Seattle and Dallas (more at flashdancethemusical.com).