By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun
2:07 PM EST, February 8, 2013
If such golden oldies as "Maniac," "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and, of course, "Flashdance… What a Feeling" still run through your head, there's a show heading to Baltimore ready to scoop you up in a wave of feel-good nostalgia.
Those songs played an integral role in a 1983, critic-proof Paramount Pictures release called "Flashdance," about a young woman named Alex who worked as a welder in Pittsburgh, but dreamed of being a professional dancer.
Three decades later, along comes "Flashdance — The Musical," complete with the famous water-dousing dance scene that got many a teenage hormone racing in movie theaters.
It's one more in a long line of movies-turned-into-stage-vehicles, but it's not following the usual trajectory. Rather than saving a national tour until after a Broadway run, this show is doing the traveling first.
The tour opened last month, fittingly, in Pittsburgh, and will have visited about two dozen cities by midsummer. A Broadway opening has been talked about for August.
This is not the same "Flashdance" that opened in Plymouth, England, in 2008 and toured that country before hitting London's West End.
"I was invited to London to doctor the show," said director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo. "I decided that instead of fixing it I wanted to start from scratch."
Trujillo, whose extensive credits include choreographing such award-winning shows as "Jersey Boys," "Memphis," "Next to Normal" and "The Addams Family," came to the "Flashdance" project with his own bit of nostalgia.
"I started dancing around the time I saw the movie," said the Colombian-born Trujillo, who was raised in Canada. "I was incredibly moved and inspired by it. It's a rags-to-riches, blue-collar story of someone who dreams to dance. And I started dancing late, just like Alex did."
By 1989, Trujillo was in New York dancing in hit Broadway shows; by 2005, he was choreographing them.
"Flashdance," with a book by Robert Cary and Tom Hedley (co-writer of the movie screenplay), has as a musical flash point the hits from the film.
"I inherited the [movie's] iconic songs," Trujillo said. "But we also needed songs that are character-driven or story-telling. That was important for us."
Cary and Robbie Roth fashioned more than a dozen new songs for the show. Those are not the only differences with the film.
Some characters have been cut or fused into one, for example. But none of the changes "depart too far away from the essence of the story," Trujillo said. "I understand how iconic the movie is. I wanted the audience to feel comfortable, to experience what they remember, but in such a way that it feels fresh."
One big thing that the two "Flashdance" products don't have in common has to do with the central character of Alex. Whatever qualities Jennifer Beals brought to the screen in that role, dancing was not one of them. Body doubles (including, at one point, a man) provided the vibrant moves.
Such sleight of eye could never be attempted live onstage.
"The challenge was finding dancers who could be triple and quadruple threats," Trujillo said, "dancers who were classically trained, but able to do jazz, hip hop, exotic dancing — and be able to sing."
The director/choreographer found his Alex in Emily Padgett, who has had featured roles on Broadway in "Grease," "Legally Blonde" and others.
Padgett, who sings 14 of the songs in "Flashdance," was used to tackling the vocal side of a musical. A dance-driven show was something else entirely. She started preparing for this assignment two years ago.
"When Sergio told me he was interested in me for this, I told him, 'There's no way. You're crazy.' But he never gave up on me," Padgett said. "This show is the hardest I've ever done. A one o'clock matinee can be a killer sometimes. That's when I wish I had a body double."
Padgett already had an advantage getting into the ambience of "Flashdance," having performed the female lead in another musical set in the same time period, "Rock of Ages."
"The '80s and me are very close," she said with a laugh.
That closeness is all the more remarkable given that she was born a year after the movie "Flashdance" was released.
In addition to fitting into the dance groove, the North Carolina-born Padgett found common ground with the character of Alex.
"I knew in elementary school that I wanted to be on Broadway," Padgett said. "There's a line from the movie, which I wish was in the [musical]: 'When you give up on your dream, you die.' That's what the show is all about. Alex just has to try, because if you don't always try, you'll regret it."
Padgett followed her own dream right out of high school, when she headed to New York, where she worked odd jobs before breaking into the business.
"Alex kept people at a distance, and being an actor in New York you sort of have to be that way," Padgett said. "She had a crippling fear of falling on [her] face, and I've definitely had that. So I do identify with her."
"Flashdance — The Musical" has not generated unreservedly enthusiastic reviews on the initial legs of the tour. Trujillo does not sound discouraged.
"'Wicked' didn't get great reviews, and look at how that ended up," he said. "I'm not saying this is another 'Wicked.' But you have to take the best you can from reviews. We are continuing to assess and work on the show."
Padgett, who finds the reviews "very helpful," pointed to another yardstick to measure how the tour is going.
"It's just like with 'Rock of Ages.' People hear songs they grew up with, songs that remind them of specific times in their lives," Padgett said. "You can feel the audience just open up. They're totally with us. We get standing ovations every night."
If you go
"Flashdance" opens at 8 p.m. Tuesday and runs through Feb., 17 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $25 to $110 (plus fees). Call 410-547-7328 or go to Ticketmaster.com.
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