The years have not been kind to the 1983 film “Flashdance.” Its star, Jennifer Beals, has aged far more gracefully than the movie about a woman who is a steelworker by day and a dancer at night.
The low-budget film was an unexpected blockbuster. It was the top R-rated film of ’83 and spawned the top-charting hits “Maniac” and “Flashdance . . . What a Feeling.” But watch the movie today — and this is by no means an endorsement to do so — and you’ll see a plot with bigger holes than the shoulder-bearing bateau neckline of Beals’s iconic sweatshirt.
Even the writer of the film, Tom Hedley, admits that technicians had a heavy hand in manufacturing the appeal of “Flashdance.” The drawn-out dance sequences, which feel endless by today’s rapid-cut editing techniques, were avant-garde at a time when a generation was submerged in MTV. Today the movie resembles a fossil that was excavated alongside Simon Le Bon’s fedora.
With an older and wiser Hedley at the helm once again, “Flashdance” has been reborn as a stage musical. “Flashdance The Musical” opens at the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre on March 12. The stage reboot has given the author, who worked as a journalist in print and television before departing for Hollywood, an opportunity to beef up the script, particularly the film’s parchment-thin love story between its protagonist and her boss (to be played on stage by Sydney Morton and Corey Mach).
For years, he resisted any kind of cinematic sequel, though there were many offers.
“I thought it would be so cheesy,” Hedley said on the phone from Palm Beach, Fla. “What would she do? Go off and have an affair with Baryshnikov? I just thought that ‘Flashdance’ was so ephemeral and ultimately visually poetic that I couldn’t see how you could make a sequel that had the same response.”
He could, however, see the movie retooled for the stage. When he first wrote the script in the early 1980s, he envisioned it as a modern take on a Hollywood musical. He approached legendary choreographer Bob Fosse to direct the movie, but after examining the screenplay, Fosse told Hedley it was best suited for the stage, not film. He offered to direct “Flashdance” on Broadway, but Hedley had already sold the rights to Paramount.
Fosse’s words lingered as inspiration and endorsement, nonetheless. So, when Hedley started imagining “Flashdance The Musical” in the late 2000s, he was squeamish about creating theater that would be seen as a campy trip down memory lane. The musical is set in the 1980s, but it’s not a “Rock of Ages” wink-at-the-audience show constructed around a string of jokes about legwarmers.
He also didn’t want to create a jukebox musical. There are five songs from the movie, including the theme song and “Maniac,” primarily because an audience would revolt at not hearing the Irene Cara hit, but the rest of the book was scored by Toronto-based musician Robbie Roth.
Roth had the unenviable job of writing songs that would sit alongside those well-known hits. He likens his songs to the warm-up act at a concert. But they play an important part in moving the story forward.
“It was kind of a pressure cooker to write these,” he said. “But I felt like my music was in the same palette as those songs. I did my best to make sure that it didn’t sound like two different scores.”
The initial plan was for the show to open with a run in Toronto, then move to Broadway. But after the producers backed a pair of Broadway flops (“Chaplin” and “Leap of Faith”) “Flashdance The Musical” was put on the back burner.
Instead, it opened in London to less-than-stellar reviews. The move to Broadway was delayed again, twice. Then, Hedley took the unorthodox approach of taking the show on a national tour before Broadway (it’s traditionally the other way around) and has listened to critics in making significant changes.
After the current tour, Hedley said the revamped show will finally have its Broadway debut. Producers have secured a theater and dates are being worked out for an opening.
“What I’ve enjoyed about this process is that Broadway is an entirely different beast,” he said. “You need a deeper story and stronger characters. I feel like I’m getting a new chance to bring these characters back, but better than you remember.”Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.