Upon the 30th anniversary of Flashdance, a new musical version of the pop culture phenomenon is coming Jan. 8 to 13 to the Peabody Opera House. LN recently spoke with screenplay and musical co-writer Tom Hedley about taking the iconic cult film favorite from the screen to the stage—where he originally imagined it.
How did you take Flashdance from the screen to the stage?
It’s two different art forms. You have to make it work for the stage. There is a huge cast and crew—they’re like a little army. So many elements are important: the costumes are designed by Broadway crews, and the lighting and sets really move seamlessly. It’s a big production.
Tell us about putting the iconic music into the production.
There are big demands on the music—it features all the classics, What A Feeling, Maniac, Gloria and more—and we have an orchestra that is like a rock ’n roll band. It’s all live and you feel that you’re right there. That’s the thing about the live theater experience—so much goes into the preparation. But once you get there, it’s all worth it.
What are the differences between the movie and the new musical?
In film, you can cheat a lot—with editing, camera tricks and doubles. For the Flashdance film, we had four dance doubles for the show’s star, Alex. For instance, in the street dance scene, we put a 14-year-old Puerto Rican street dancer boy in drag and no one could even tell. But onstage, it’s in your face; it’s completely honest and the athletic expression has to work. It’s actually more demanding to get the story right. And it’s an enormously athletic feat for the cast—Alex never stops dancing the whole time, and the audition scene at the end has to be the biggest moment of dance you’ve seen. You have to be in amazing shape to pull that off.
Tell us about the stage talent for the new production?
We found Emily Padgett after I don’t know how many hundreds of castings. She had to be able to sing, dance and act, and that triple threat is not easy to find. Emily has done some Broadway shows before, but she is just really emerging in her career. And that’s what we were looking for—we didn’t want someone famous because any girl in the audience has to feel like she could be her. As the rounds of audition workshops went along, we noticed Emily had a lot of the characteristics of Alex. She started to get very nervous and fear that she wasn’t going to be able to make her dream happen, just like Alex. And that’s the universal message of the musical—how you face up to that fear. And Emily is enormously convincing and endearing as she does that. It is terrifying to go out there and put it all on the line like they do. I don’t know how they do it…that’s why I’m a writer.
What is the story behind the name Flashdance?
I called it Flashdance because I knew these girls, ages 17 to 21, in Toronto that had this complete style of dancing—like modern burlesque or a cabaret act—that collided in this moment when fashion met dance and music. And I thought this is so rare—a very alive, interesting moment in their lives I wanted to capture. They were attempting to do live videos, and that’s when Flashdance and MTV (which both were created in the early '80s) actually became coincidentally historically intertwined. It was only later I realized this was part of a bigger sub-cultural movement and the emergence of the ‘MTV generation.’ I was doing a movie with Sean Penn in Hollywood, and I was working on a script with him. This was when he was married to Madonna, and she said to me: I was the first Flashdance girl. And I realized later, she absolutely was.
What do Flashdance film fans think of the new musical?
There is a different generation that wasn’t even born when the movie came out. You have mothers in their 40s bringing their teenage daughters to the musical because the film was very big in their lives. It is a classic American story everyone can relate to. The movie’s iconic role continues, and certainly the musical gives it new life.