Audiences connect with stage version of 1983 film ‘Flashdance, the Musical’

By John Benson

What a feeling, indeed.

Since its 2008 West End debut, “Flashdance — The Musical” has been tickling audiences with thoughts of leg warmers, pails of water and hit songs including “Flashdance — What a Feeling,” “Maniac,” “Gloria,” “Manhunt” and “I Love Rock & Roll.”

The touring production will arrive in Cleveland on Tuesday for shows that run through April 13 at the Palace Theatre.

The one person responsible for rounding out the classic-filled score for the stage was songwriter Robbie Roth.

“It’s such a great mix of songs, and it’s such a great specific sound,” said Roth, calling from Toronto. “For me as a composer and songwriter, to be able to try to tap into that in some way and sort of expand upon that was a great challenge.”

In fact, daunting is the word Roth used to describe the experience, which he said was analogous to being on tour as an opening act for a superstar. That is, everyone is there to see the headliner and potentially annoyed by the supporting band.

“My job was more to keep the story moving along,” Roth said. “I didn’t want it to be like you hear ‘Maniac’ and then you hear this other piece of music that is so sonically different you’re taken out of the moment. I think we succeeded in that in making it feel like it’s all the same palette of rhythms, sounds and melodic approach.”

He added that the global mandate in writing music for the show was to create malleable and danceable songs for director-choreographer Sergio Trujillo (“Jersey Boys,” “Memphis” and “The Addams Family”).

Among the songs that achieve such a goal are the catchy duet “Here and Now,” which Roth said captures the mood with a good old-fashioned pop hook. There’s also the call-to-arms song “My Turn,”

“Sergio did amazing dance arrangements,” Roth said. “I feel like numbers like that hold their own amidst all of the other great stuff that pre-existed all of this.”

That great stuff obviously is tied to the 1983 film, which not only grossed $150 million and boasts a Grammy Award-winning soundtrack, but became a pop-culture phenomenon.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Jennifer Beals film told the inspiring story of Pittsburgh steel mill welder Alex Owens, who dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

Even though in some ways the story is a cliched tale, Roth said “Flashdance — The Musical” doesn’t disappoint with its toe-tapping soundtrack.

“I think people can connect with the classic story about a girl with a dream,” Roth said. “And it’s set in such a beautiful and unique way, it’s amazing. I’ve seen it all over the world and the response is so consistently embraced by people just going to have fun and connect with it.”

He added, “The beauty of ‘Flashdance’ is you are able to escape into the music. It’s a really great night out. It’s sexy and rhythmic. It has all of the elements of good, fun popular culture.”

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