When talking with a friend the other day, I mentioned that I would be attending the Nashville premiere of Flashdance the Musical tomorrow night (running March 19 through 24) at Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) and my pal looked at me quizzically and asked, “Haven't you seen the movie?” Of course I had, as I told her – and my friend went on to ask why I would want to see it again? I was flabbergasted. First of all, Flashdance the movie is, in itself, worthy of being watched again and again. It's a high energy, motivating, entertaining and inspiring movie. But to see it in musical theatre form? Geez, it can't get much better than that.
I tried to explain to my buddy, who has never been to see a live performance, the incredible difference in seeing a movie and experiencing a live musical theatre performance. My first question was, when a movie comes out that you are Dying to see, would you rather see it on the big screen or on video at home? The answer was an obvious “On the big screen, of course!” I told my friend to take that answer, multiply it by about one hundred and that's the difference between seeing a movie and the live musical theatre version of it.
Later on, I got to ask Rachelle "Sas" Rak, who plays Tess some questions.(Tess is a character not even in the movie version, who performs "I Love Rock 'n Roll" in the play)
Rak is a talented performer who has been labeled as a “triple threat” on Broadway because of her incredible talents in dance, singing and acting. A few of her credits include Chicago, A Chorus Line, Catch Me If You Can, Cats and West Side Story. She must indeed live up to that reputation because the part of “Tess” was created with her in mind. With a Tina Turner look as fierce as her talents, she is reason alone to see the musical version of the 80s mega-hit Flashdance.
Linda Brewer (LB): Playing Flashdance the Musical must be a dream part for any performer. I read that the part of Tess was built by director and choreographer Sergio Trujillo with you in mind, is that true? If so, why you?
Rachelle Rak: Performing in Flashdance the musical is a dream come true for almost any wanna-be dancer/performer from Pittsburgh in the 80's and that was me.
I grew up in Banksville and Greentree and my mom was my dance teacher and I want to eat, breath, and dance. So, when I saw Jennifer Beals and her crew of dancers do numbers like Manhunt, Romeo, Maniac and What a Feeling. Let's just say it changed my life.
Tess is my character and Yes , Sergio and I have been working on developing her character, style, movement and attitude. We did a lot of collaborating on the choreography for her hit number "I Love Rock 'n Roll". Sergio and I work well together. He knows my strengths and he knows how to feature my best qualities. We created her together. I love her. She has a little 'sas' like me and a whole lot of fire but also heart. She loves those other gals.
LB: Did you have any hesitation in taking the part? Did you still have to audition against others for it?
Rachelle Rak: In an situation of building a new musical you will always be competing with someone else for the job. With this particular show Sergio did have me in mind to play Tess for a long time but, again that does not guarantee any future for you. You should just do the work and give your all and then hope that when the time comes it will go your way.
LB: I hear you are an 80s fan. Were you already a big fan of the 1983 film from which the play is adapted? Have you used the film for inspiration in playing the part of Tess in the musical?
Rachelle Rak: I was greatly inspired by the 80's. Flashdance was coming out right when MTV was starting and it was huge. Both of them. On the big screen it was the first time we were seeing dance choreographed and filmed like a video but in a Movie. It was great to watch; exciting and full of energy. Five of the songs became huge hits and people always remember the girl that worked at the steel mill by day and the Club at night. "Harry's", that is the club I work at.
Sergio asked me if I wanted to look like Pat Benatar or Joan Jett and I said No but, how about TINA TURNER and he said yes. Woo hoo. And T.T. it is. I really do love rock 'n roll. From Guns n Roses (back) then to the Killers today. I guess I am just a rock chic.
LB: How does the play differ from the movie?
Rachelle Rak: Flashdance differs from the movie because we get to develop relationships with other characters. Nick Hurley who runs and owns Hurley Steel gets to show us many sides of his life and character. Hannah Emily's mentor comes out and guides her and shares her experience.
But, the one thing that has remained is the Heart. This show is about the underdog, about the will to be better, not the will to be a star overnight. Alex Owens wants to go to The Shipley Academy to learn to dance . I don't think that is too much to ask, but how she does it and where she comes from matters. We want to cheer her on and feel her passion.
LB: Flashdance is a very physically demanding play; how do you stay in shape for the part? How do you gear up, get that energy going before a performance?
Rachelle Rak: While performing in Flashdance I also run everyday 3 to 4 miles, lift weights , jacuzzi when I can; I need physical therapy once a week to help me stay young and I warm up my voice and body one hour before the show.
LB: What do you plan on doing, eating or visiting while you are in Nashville?
Rachelle Rak: I would like to see the Country Music Hall of Fame. Go to listen to Country Music and, Well, do you have any suggestions for me????
LB: Miss Rachelle, I always suggest TPAC to Nashville visitors, but seeing that you will be in the production while here, my second thought is for you to visit Schermerhorn Symphony Center, even if you can't make a concert, to see one of the most impressive, classy and beautifully constructed symphony halls anywhere in the country.
For country music, you just have to bar hop on Broadway and in the famous Printer's Alley, especially Wildhorse Saloon (a contemporary country bar and fantastic ) and Robert's Western World (for the old stuff!) on Broad and Bourbon Street Blues Club in Printer's Alley. And if you love history, don't miss the bottom floor of TPAC for the Tennessee State Museum. It's free (donations welcome) and always has an exemplary historical exhibit.
RACHELLE RAK (Tess) is so excited to be a part of the original US production of Flashdance. Rachelle’s story began in Pittsburgh where she studied at the Rosalene Kenneth Dance Studio. She was trained by her mother Rosalene Kenneth, Sherry Dusky and Donna DeMark. Broadway: Fosse, Cats, Thou Shalt Not, Oklahoma, The Look of Love, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Catch Me If You Can. 1st National Tours: Starlight Express & Smokey Joe’s Cafe. She is featured in the film “Every Little Step: The Making of A Chorus Line.” She co-wrote and produced her CD and music videos SAS/RAK with Martyn Axe and Daniel Robinson. This year, Rachelle choreographed for the Norwegian Cruise Line, performed in the “Jack Cole Project,” played Sheila in A Chorus Line, worked on the musical Pippin and now Flashdance. Special thanks to Ro, Big Al, Frankie, all of her students and her Pittsburgh crew. Love to her husband Andy Hoey. “Bein’s Believin.” She dedicates this show to the memory of her Aunt Arlene and her father Peter Kenneth Rak. RachelleRak.com.
For tickets and more info on Flashdance and other Broadway Musicals, visit tpac.org.