Remember the story of Alex, the young woman who is a steel mill welder by day and bar dancer by night who dreams of becoming a professional dancer?
Yeah, you probably do if you saw the 1983 film “Flashdance.” Now Alex is back, but with new moves in a stage musical that is working its way toward Broadway next year.
The national tour of the iconic pop culture tale brings “Flashdance — The Musical” to the Orpheum for eight performances from Thursday through Sept. 25.
Tom Hedley, co-writer of the movie and musical, had resisted doing a film sequel and was similarly reluctant to turn the film version into a stage musical. For one thing, he’s one busy guy: Hedley has written screenplays for the likes of Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, Federico Fellini, David Geffen and Dino de Laurentis. He won the Humanitas Prize for the acclaimed film “Iris” with Judi Dench and Kate Winslet. He’s been an editor of Esquire magazine and editor/publisher of the Duckworth publishing house.
But his reluctance to fiddle with “Flashdance” was both in the nature of the story and the nature of doing it live.
“It’s a slice of time and a particularly ephemeral, poetic story about a girl coming from the wrong side of the tracks trying to make her dreams come true,” Hedley says. “It has an urban fairy tale quality to it.”
It was locked into the ’80s, but needed to bring in additional fresh music. And the concept needed to be changed so it wasn’t cinematic, but instead charged up for the stage.
The challenges of updating it for the stage were not entirely unlike the struggle to get the film made in the early ’80s — making it work for the medium.
“I wanted to do a musical but back then, they were bad news to the studios,” Hedley says. “They thought musicals were finished — too expensive and no audience.” He wanted something different and had to convey that to the studios — making a musical through dance but without the Broadway aesthetic of, for example, singing to the camera.
“My first choice for director was Bob Fosse,” he says. “I met with him and he loved the character and the world, but he said it’ll never make a movie.” Fosse told him it was written like a Broadway show, not a movie.
But the film’s director, Adrian Lyne, took what many thought was a gamble — to use the then-novel approach of the music video that MTV had pioneered. As it turned out, the breakthrough success of “Flashdance” made use of music videos in film common.
Hedley says Fosse wasn’t too taken by the idea: “He loved jazz and didn’t have patience with rock and roll.” But the legendary choreographer (nine Tony Awards and an Oscar) later saw the film. Hedley says, “He phoned me after the screening and said, ‘It’s going to make a lot of money.’ But he didn’t say if he thought it was good or bad.”
The character of Alex in “Flashdance” is, whether in film or on stage, strong willed. Hedley said he took notes as Fosse talked and found some of the keenest insight involved women dancers.
Hedley says Fosse’s notes included this observation: “When they walk in a room, they know in a flash exactly who else has the best body, the best look, the best technique. But each one thinks she has the best moves, and that when they do their interpretation, that’s what wins. They’re all like that — if they’re not, they’re no good.”
“Flashdance — The Musical”
Sept. 19-25 at the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Shows: Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 20, 8 p.m.; Sept. 21, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sept. 22, 1:30 and 7 p.m.; Sept. 24 and 25, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20-$90. More information: 901-525-3000 and orpheum-memphis.com.