Tom Hedley: 'On stage, Flashdance in your face and completely alive'

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The Independent Culture

When I wrote Flashdance, in 1982, it was a hard sell; musicals were considered poison at the box office and Hollywood studio executives were put off by the notion that what I had written would in any way be thought of or described as a musical. The first director I approached was the great Bob Fosse. He was very drawn to it but, after giving me copious notes, he finally shrugged and said: "Look, the fact is, this is simply not a movie. What you have written is a stage musical and I would be willing to consider working on it for Broadway. But even then there is a central flaw in your concept – you seem to have all the choreography done as single dancers direct to the camera. You must have ensemble choreography for the stage."

I too had my prejudices towards movies, like Fame, which told a wonderful story but had their characters jumping on yellow New York cabs, singing as if they were on Broadway stage and not a movie screen. My instinct was to create a musical where the characters did not sing directly to camera as if they were in an old MGM musical. I felt that a dance film could be structured musically, with real, written, production numbers and formal dramaturgy, but also giving the appearance that this was a real story happening in real time. At the time I had been struck by Rocky. As far as I was concerned it was a musical, a Capra movie with disco music. Finally, the movie was made by Adrian Lyne, who understood the concept brilliantly.

The journey to the stage has been a long one; I resisted it as I'm not fond of trips down memory lane. The movie worked because it was fresh. If it became a simple juxbox musical, it would be hard to escape the cheese factor.

But now here we are in the West End. So much of the dance in the movie was executed by body-doubles, using tricks and editing. The excitement of the theatre is that it is up there for real, in your face and completely alive.

Shaftesbury Theatre, London WC2 ( to 26 February 2011