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posted: 8/4/2013 6:15 AM

'Flashdance' obsession comes full circle with dancer's lead role

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  • Jillian Mueller performs the iconic "Water Dance" in "Flashdance The Musical," coming to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

      Jillian Mueller performs the iconic "Water Dance" in "Flashdance The Musical," coming to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

  • Welder and exotic dancer Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller) expresses her desire to become a ballet dance to her boss/boyfriend Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik) in "Flashdance The Musical," coming to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago Tuesday, Aug. 6, through Sunday, Aug. 18.

      Welder and exotic dancer Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller) expresses her desire to become a ballet dance to her boss/boyfriend Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik) in "Flashdance The Musical," coming to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago Tuesday, Aug. 6, through Sunday, Aug. 18.
    Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

  • Jillian Mueller performs the climactic dance audition for a ballet company in "Flashdance The Musical," coming to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

      Jillian Mueller performs the climactic dance audition for a ballet company in "Flashdance The Musical," coming to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

 
 

As a 7-year-old, Jillian Mueller was so enamored of dancing that her New Jersey parents got her all kinds of movies for Christmas that dealt with dance. One of those was the 1983 film "Flashdance," which stars Jennifer Beals as Alex Owens, a spunky 18-year-old Pittsburg welder by day and an exotic dancer by night who has aspirations of becoming a ballerina.

"I became obsessed with it," said Mueller, who is starring as Alex in the national tour of "Flashdance -- The Musical," which comes to Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre for a 16-performance run Tuesday, Aug. 6, through Sunday, Aug. 18.

"('Flashdance') was one of the movies I watched over and over again," said Mueller, whose past touring and Broadway credits include "American Idiot" and a revival of "Bye, Bye Birdie." "It kind of inspired me to be in showbiz."

But didn't Mueller's parents realize that "Flashdance" carried an "R" rating for profanity, nudity and sexual situations? Or that "Flashdance was universally lambasted by film critics?

For instance, Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire in his 1983 review called "Flashdance" a "narrative mess" and dismissed its MTV-style editing by adding, "This is strictly a musical videotape on film shot by a cinematographer with a fetish for wet, undulating derrières."

There was even controversy over the fact that Beals didn't do all of her own dancing. Body doubles, largely filmed in silhouette, did the bulk of Alex's tricky dance moves while Beals did the close-ups.

"The stuff I wasn't supposed to know about kind of went over my head," Mueller says upon reflection about the grown-up elements of "Flashdance" and its dance doubles. "I just loved the dance numbers and the spectacle of it. That's what I was mostly drawn to."

Despite the mediocre reviews, "Flashdance" had an enormous cultural impact with fashion and pop music. The torn, over-one-shoulder sweatshirts and leg warmers worn by Beals in the film became must-have 1980s fashions. The soundtrack boasted popular MTV-ready and Top 40-radio hits like "Maniac," "Gloria," "Manhunt," "I Love Rock and Roll" and especially the title song, "Flashdance -- What a Feeling," which went on to win an Academy Award.

"Flashdance's" dance sequences, particularly the iconic moment when Beals (or her body double) finishes a number by pulling a cord to get drenched by water, have been much-parodied in commercials, films and TV shows.

Given the recent nostalgic trend of adapting music-filled films into stage musicals like "Footloose" and "Dirty Dancing," it should really come as no surprise that "Flashdance" was targeted. A previous stage version of "Flashdance" toured the U.K. and played in London in 2010.

Now touring North America, the show has been further tweaked under a new creative team led by director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo ("Jersey Boys," "Memphis"). The score by Robbie Roth and Robert Cray has added 16 songs to the '80s hits, while the adapted script by Cary and Tom Hedley (co-writer of the original screenplay) has reportedly deepened the film's characters, many of whom have aspirations of performing careers.

Mueller finished touring with "Memphis" when the call came for her to step into the "Flashdance" tour a few months ago. Trujillo and the show's creators did some more revisions with the musical during its Dallas run, requiring Mueller to perform the old version at night while rehearsing the new stuff by day.

"It was a totally crazy experience, but working with Sergio was awesome," Mueller said, laughing at the fact that she doesn't get the luxury of a body double to do the choreography. "It was really cool because we changed some of my final dances so that they looked better on me and played to my strengths as a dancer."

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