No Flash in the pan

FLASHDANCE - THE MUSICAL by Robbie Roth, Robert Cary and Tom Hedley. Presented by Mirvish at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

FLASHDANCE – THE MUSICAL by Robbie Roth, Robert Cary and Tom Hedley. Presented by Mirvish at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). Previews Tuesday (May 27), opens Wednesday (May 28) and runs to June 8, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm plus some Sundays. $36-$130. 416-872-1212.

Thanks to Tom Hedley, the word “Flashdance” is part of pop culture history, complete with the indelible image of Jennifer Beals’s spotlit, arched body getting splashed with a bucket of water.

The Canadian-raised Hedley wrote the screenplay for that iconic 80s movie and has now written the book for the new musical version. He coined the word that launched the sale of a million leg warmers.

“I wanted a term that captured a complete aesthetic and style,” he says in the lobby of the Ed Mirvish Theatre, where the musical opens next week before heading to Broadway.

“The idea was that in a flash you could see the moment when fashion, dance and music all came together to create an image. That’s flashdance. And that was what we were after.”

Coincidentally, it was visiting a now long-shuttered club called Gimlets down the street (at Victoria and Lombard) that gave him the idea for the screenplay in the first place.

“My painter friends hung out there to watch bodies move,” he says. “These women put on modern burlesque acts. They invited me, and I was enthralled.”

Having grown up partly in Hamilton, he was also familiar with the steel business.

“A couple of teenage girls I knew were pipefitters, and there was something very sexy about a woman doing a man’s job,” he says with an old-school grin. “To survive in that world you had to be better than the men. So to put that together with this club where they were trying to do art in a neighbourhood that doesn’t respond to art… well, it just felt like a great stage for all of these elements.”

Hedley was as shocked as anyone when the film became a huge hit. Critics dismissed it as a series of music videos, but that was the point.

“The movie coincided with the rise of MTV,” he says. “You couldn’t get a musical done back then. So the intention was to use the music video’s vocabulary to tell a story.”

Over the years, between film and publishing (he was a producer on the Oscar-winning film Iris), Hedley’s turned down offers to write a Flashdance sequel.

“What would you do?” he says, laughing. “She has an affair with Baryshnikov and dumps the guy in the mill? It was too cheesy to even contemplate.”

But he did like the idea of fleshing out the story for the stage, complete with new music.

“I wanted to make the love story work and make the emotional continuity of the music part of the narrative,” he says. “That meant new music, new lyrics and a choreographer who knows how to tell a story in dance.”

Now based in Manhattan and Connecticut, Hedley has had several careers, including magazine editor here and in New York, where he was the youngest-ever editor of Esquire, working with greats like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal.

“That was the golden period in magazine journalism,” he says. “It’s gone, of course. There were no celebrities back then, only stars. Celebrities attempt to make themselves into a consumer product. It’s about branding, publicity, self-aggrandizement and selling something in five different ways.

“That makes sense from a financial point of view,” he says, “but it’s not art.”

Interview Clips

Tom Hedley on Flashdance’s complicated road to Toronto:

Download associated audio clip.

On the “new journalism” he was editing at Esquire in its heyday:

Download associated audio clip.

On maintaining his sanity through several decades in show business (with a reference to Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter):

Download associated audio clip.

On getting his job at Esquire:

Download associated audio clip. | @glennsumi

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