‘Flashdance The Musical,’ at the Kennedy Center, amps up the ’80s classic with new songs and splashy dancing

December 27, 2013
Jillian Mueller as Alex in "Flashdance The Musical" (Jeremy Daniel)
Jillian Mueller as Alex in “Flashdance The Musical” (Jeremy Daniel)

Jillian Mueller isn’t a steel town girl on a Saturday night, looking for the fight of her life, but she does dance into the danger zone (more on that below) and one could say she’s a maniac, maniac on the floor.

Mueller stars as Alex Owens in “Flashdance The Musical,” based on the 1983 movie and playing at the Kennedy Center. Alex is a welder (Mueller received “about 10 minutes” of welding instruction) and an exotic dancer (Mueller has 16 years of dance training) who longs to go to ballet school.

“I got [the movie] for Christmas one year,” Mueller says. “I would watch it all the time.” When she got the part, though, she knew she didn’t want to imitate the performance of Jennifer Beals, who played Alex in the film.

“It’s a hard thing, doing musicals made from movies,” Mueller says. “There is that certain level of people almost expecting [Beals] to be onstage.”

The film’s equally iconic soundtrack was almost inescapable in the ’80s (it includes “Maniac,” “Flashdance … What a Feeling” and “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” one of which is now stuck in your head). The musical adds 16 original songs.

Where the music comes from doesn’t matter very much to Mueller, though. “Whether the song is a pop song or a musical theater song, you treat it the same way,” she says. “It’s still trying to tell a story.”

A Splash Hit


She’s a maniac. A wet maniac. (Jeremy Daniel)

Everyone is waiting for THE moment in “Flashdance The Musical.” And you know it’s coming when Jillian Mueller, who plays Alex Owens in the stage adaptation, appears onstage wearing a raincoat. “The water dance is even more of a spectacle than it is in the movie,” Mueller says. “There’s water coming off the sides and the front of the stage, so even if people know it from the movie, it’s still different.” The climax — when Alex gets drenched by a bucket of water above her — is a direct homage to the movie, though. And there’s no screen magic to help pull it off. Kevin Riggall, the show’s assistant carpenter, and Mueller told us how it happens.

The rigging on either side of Mueller isn’t just scenery. It conceals “a giant water tank, an air tank and a bunch of other electronic things” necessary to shoot and pour the water, Riggall says. He and his team set it all up in about 3½ minutes, hidden from view during a big dance number.

Before the scene, Mueller has a quick costume change that includes switching wigs — the one she wears during most of the show can’t get wet.

The writers moved the dousing scene from its position in the movie so it hits at the end of Act I. (Alex also dances to “Maniac,” rather than “He’s a Dream.”) This gives the stage crew time to clean up the stage and for Mueller to dry off during intermission.

The water itself presented a challenge early in rehearsals. “It would sometimes be really cold because they’d get the water from whatever the water source is,” Mueller says. (As in, a sink, not a warm bath.) Now the platform rig has a heating element in it to prevent chills.

The string Mueller pulls to bring down the water from the “ceiling” does nothing. Every cue is preprogrammed and occurs automatically — there’s no one waiting on the catwalk with a bucket. The conductor triggers the process by pressing a button, Riggall says, so “the music and the timing will never change.”

Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; through Jan. 19, $45-$150; 202-467-4600. (Foggy Bottom)

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