“It’s the thing that won’t go away,” says journalist-turned-screenwriter-turned-playwright Thomas Hedley Jr. of his most famous work, Flashdance.
Sitting at the grand Ed Mirvish Theatre on Yonge Street, just blocks away from the strip bars that inspired him to write the original story, he talks about bringing Flashdance to the stage.
“If you are going to do this for the stage, you have to play by the rules of the stage,” he says.
“You need a great love story and the singing and the dancing has to advance the story and you are locked into those techniques. It’s happening in front of your eyes. It’s not three or four body doubles. It’s more honest. That makes it play stronger.”
In 1983, Flashdance was a phenomenon. The story of a welder-by-day, exotic-dancer-by-night Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) and her dreams of going to ballet school, made off-the-shoulder sweatshirts fashionable and became the number one R-rated movie of the year.
“It was a zeitgeist thing,” he says. “It just clicked.”
Hedley conceived the story years before at a bar called Gimlets in downtown Toronto.
“My friend Robert Markle taught painting at the New School. Like de Kooning, he wanted to have movement in all of his nude studies, so he found this place and these girls were doing it. He said, ‘You gotta come. It’s my Sistine Chapel but you have to behave. I don’t want jerky behaviour.’ I went there and watched him draw them. We were very avuncular. We weren’t like guys on the make or anything. We were the genteel, older men in the back. We got to know (the girls) very well. I’m always drawn to girls 18 to 20 who want to make something dramatic out of themselves and need to be an outlaw before they go off and marry the plumber. There is an enormous energy from those creatures and they were like that.”
The story’s provocative origins grabbed Hollywood’s attention but didn’t guarantee that the story would get turned into a film.
“It was not on the track to being made,” says Hedley, “and then a couple of movies fell out at Paramount and they had a big meeting and said, ‘What do we have?’ (Frank) Mancuso, who was the head of marketing, said, ‘I could sell this one, with the naked girls. Let’s do that one.’ It was lucky that it got made at all. It was a random thing.”
The new stage musical, lands at Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly The Canon) on May 27, 30 years after the movie was released. It features all the songs from the film — hits like Flashdance What a Feeling, Maniac and Gloria — alongside new songs by Canadian composer Robbie Roth.
It’s a labour of love that has kept Hedley busy for almost 10 years.
“It’s like Sammy Davis, Jr. singing Candy Man,” he says. “If I were him, I’d never want to sing Candy Man but you have to stick with it because it has its own life.”