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Choreographer Sergio Trujillo steps up to ‘Flashdance’ musical

Jillian Mueller stars as Alex 'Flashdance --- The Musical. | PHOTO BY JEREMY DANIEL

Jillian Mueller stars as Alex in "Flashdance --- The Musical. | PHOTO BY JEREMY DANIEL

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◆ Aug. 6-18

◆ Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph

◆ Tickets, $18-$85

◆ (800) 775-2000;

Updated: August 1, 2013 1:40PM

Sergio Trujillo, the choreographer behind such Broadway musicals as “Jersey Boys,” “Memphis” and “The Addams Family,” vividly remembers his first encounter with “Flashdance,” the wildly popular 1983 movie directed by Adrian Lyne.

“I was about 20, and was studying to become a chiropractor,” said Trujillo, who was born in Colombia, moved to Canada with his family at age 12, and only began taking dance classes at 18 — notably late for anyone planning a professional career. “I danced out of the movie theater and knew what I had to do.”

Now, in one of those fortuitous full-circle career twists, Trujillo is serving as director and choreographer of “Flashdance — The Musical,” a national touring company production that will stop at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre for a two-week run, Aug. 6-18. (According to Trujillo, this is “an unconventional tour,” already on its second cast since opening in Pittsburgh this past January, and with no plans to head to Broadway. The show is a major reworking of the musical that initially opened in England in 2008, and had a 16-week run in London in 2011, with a different director and choreographer at the helm.)

“This musical draws on so much of my personal dance education,” said Trujillo. “I grew up during the 1980s, when breakdancing and MTV were all the rage, so the dance of that period just spilled out of me. And my training was eclectic — from the contemporary jazz technique I studied early on, to classical ballet, to my exposure to the work of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. So I’ve always used my own recipe for dance — a combination of ballet, modern, hip-hop and the sexy jazz or true flashdance style I used when, early on, I danced in Toronto clubs. In that way I’m a lot like Alex.”

Alex, of course, is Alex Owens, the central character in “Flashdance” — the 18-year-old woman who works as a welder in a Pittsburgh steel mill by day and an exotic dancer by night, and whose big dream is to be accepted into her city’s fabled dance conservatory. Like Trujillo himself — as well as the central figures in several other dance-oriented stories, from “Billy Elliot” to “The Full Monty” and “A Chorus Line” — Alex is pure working-class.

“This is a ‘feel good’ show — one that feeds people’s desire to watch an unlikely hero or heroine achieve their dream, and leaves them inspired by that triumph,” said Trujillo. “It’s just like in the movie ‘Rocky,’ even if that story was about an older, washed up washed-up boxer. In fact, I know a girl very much like Alex who came from a poor family, started her dance training late, but ultimately worked in Cirque du Soleil and on Broadway. The spirit of dance is invincibility. It is the most expressive, heartbreaking, sacrifice-demanding art form.”

While “Flashdance — The Musical” contains most of the hit songs from the movie — the Academy Award-winning title number, “Flashdance — What a Feeling,” as well as “Maniac,” “Gloria,” “Manhunt,” and “I Love Rock & Roll” — it also contains 16 new songs by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary. But unlike the British production, which Trujillo believed strayed too far from the original, this edition (which again features a book by Tom Hedley, co-writer of the original screenplay, and Cary) sticks close to the film.

“I very consciously didn’t want to alienate all those who loved the movie,” said Trujillo.

Yet there was this challenge: How could he capture the excitement of the film’s virtuosic, acrobatic dance sequences in a live production performed eight times a week? How could he match all the effects of crazy angles, cutting and pasting, plus the use of body doubles that was so essential to the film? (According to Trujillo, there were four stand-ins for the movie’s star, Jennifer Beals, and if you look closely, you will even discover one of them was a man.)

“Casting Alex is an incredible challenge,” said Trujillo, noting that Jillian Mueller, who will portray the character in Chicago, is only 20 and quite new to the role. “She has to be a triple threat — an actress, a singer and an outstanding dancer in many styles.”

But just what sort of dancer does Alex really want to be?

“It’s tricky to define that because if you say she does ‘contemporary dance’ that can be confusing to many people unfamiliar with dance,” Trujillo said. “So you have to use what I call the ‘extreme’ recognizable forms — ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop. And Alex is someone like me who just pulls from every kind of dance she watches, including the ballet dancers she sees in the window of the conservatory.”

Ask Trujillo about his post-“Flashdance” life and the list of projects is extensive. He recently teamed with the Argentina-based troupe responsible for the spectacle “De La Guarda,” creating an all-flying show that debuted in Mexico City. Now there is “Arrabel,” his collaboration with film composer Gustavo Santaolalla and writer John Weidman on a tango rock opera about Argentina’s “disappeared” in the Dirty War of the 1970s, set for a debut in Toronto next year. The release of the film version of “Jersey Boys” is slated for next summer. And there also is “Broadway 4D,” a new Times Square attraction that will be “a 3D film-enhanced show incorporating in-theater special effects,” for which Trujillo is creating a production featuring the iconic dance numbers from Broadway musicals ranging from “42nd Street” to “Cabaret” and “Cats.” Meow.

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