BWW Interviews: Rachelle Rak of Broadway-Bound FLASHDANCE
You've probably seen the movie, but what does Flashdance The Musical have that the movie doesn't? One word. Sas. That's right ladies and gents. Broadway veteran Rachelle Rak has taken on the role of Tess in this brand new musical that is currently sweeping across the US.
Featuring popular 80s tunes "Maniac," "Manhunt," and "What a Feeling," Flashdance The Musical tells the story of Alex Owens, an aspiring dancer who works at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, PA. I had the honor of speaking with the Queen of Sas herself about the show as well as her past theatrical adventures, her choreography career, and her video blog 'I Love Rak 'n Roll.'
So tell me, what is FLASHDANCE about?
Haven't you ever seen the film? No, FLASHDANCE, I'll tell you, FLASHDANCE was filmed in Pittsburgh in 1983. It was about a girl, Jennifer Beal played the character, her name is Alex Owens, and she was a steel worker by day and she was a dancer at night. And, some refer to it as, it was definitely a club where they performed. They didn't take all their clothes off, it was a dance club where they would perform. It's not like a strip club like we know today. Very different. And, she would do that by night. But her main goal was to try to get into, what we call in the show, the Shipley Academy, which was to go to college and be properly trained as a dancer. That was her dream. So it's kind of like, that's the main story. It's Alex Owens who, of course, you know eventually falls in love with her boss at the steel mill. That kind of thing. A love story. But really ultimately a story about a girl that has a dream. She comes from nothing and you know is working her way to try and get that dream, and you know I don't want to give away the ending, but in the end... My character is one of the girls who, I've worked, I'm from Pittsburgh, I've lived in Pittsburgh, my character's name is Tess, and I work in the club and I perform and I dance and I want Alex to have a chance to have a better shot at it than I did. I'm a lot older, I've been around the block, that kind of thing. And that's kind of where it all starts.
It's set in Pittsburgh, and you get the steel town setting, and all of the Pittsburgh bridges, and also the 80s which is when MTV was just happening. Music videos didn't exist until now. There was no music video. So it was the first of its kind, and Sergio [Trujillo] has done a wonderful job in bringing the 80s and 2013 together, which I think is really cool. We're not going back, you know, we're moving forward with both elements.
Your character is a performer and so are you, so are there any personality similarities that you have or things that you can relate to?
Oh yeah! Well yeah, just like, you know I finally played Sheila in A CHORUS LINE at Papermill this summer and I have so many similarities with Sheila, the character, and so many very different qualities about myself. So with Tess, she is a one-liner, you know a sassy one-liner, a zinger, tell it how it is, bossy... Basically she has every trait that I do, all of my good traits. And, she is a hard worker.
You know we create sometimes our little sub-stories, where you grew up, are you supporting a child, or you know you have all these stories that you bring into the play. They're not in the actual story, but that's your back story. And, you know, my parents happened to both grow up in Pittsburgh. One was from McKees Rocks, which is you know, lower-middle class at that time. And, my mom is from the West End. These were the two areas, and they both went to high school at different high schools. So I have a lot to pull from being from Pittsburgh, for me. Also Pittsburgh is such a town where there's Point Park College and Carnegie Mellon so you can relate to a girl that comes from nothing, is working in a factory job, that wants to be a dancer. The story still holds today. And that's what I think people are affected by. It's a simple story, it's straight forward, it's FLASHDANCE.
Tom [Hedley], who wrote the film screen play, created the one word "flashdance" before you ever heard of "flashdancers." This was the first time you ever saw "flashdance" put together as one word, one idea. So, in going back, the film has had a lot of hits. It has some major hits, you know "Maniac," "Manhunt," "What a Feeling." Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll" was in the film, but was not a production number. So, this is the first time, that happens to be the number I do in the show, it's the first time the number has ever been physically done in FLASHDANCE, so that's exciting. So all of these songs were, they were epic in the 80s. I mean Irene Cara's "What a Feeling" came on and you just stopped in your tracks. So now Robert Cary and Robbie Roth, who wrote the music and lyrics, have come up with over a dozen songs in the style of, uniquely created for this show to kind of frame the story and to still embrace the songs that we're using that are from the 80s. It's all become one kind of world that Sergio has created.