Julia Macchio has been a dancer since age 5, classically trained in ballet, tap, jazz, modern and hip-hop. She was selected to perform at Lincoln Center for the 80th American Dance Festival a couple of years ago and has appeared at Radio City Music Hall.
So when she was cast as the lead of the national tour of “Flashdance the Musical,” the stage adaptation of the 1983 hit movie that made leg warmers and cut-off sweatshirts fashion statements and the “water-drop dance” an iconic film image, Macchio was surprised to have her choreographer tell her during an early rehearsal to tone down her expertise a bit.
“They told me not to make it so ‘pretty,’ ” says Macchio, who will bring the show to Wichita for three performances this week for Theater League. “Alex (her character) has a raw talent and enthusiasm, but she is untrained and trying to get into a prestigious dance school. They didn’t want me to be too good too soon.”
And that, says the 23-year-old dancer-singer-actor, is easier said than done when you’ve spent about two-thirds of your life striving to be the best dancer you can be.
“It’s like a classically trained singer trying to deliberately sing off-key,” she says. “Your training wants to step in and take over automatically. It’s second nature. When I first step into her shoes, it has to be raw energy, not perfect. Fortunately, that’s only at the beginning. As Alex improves, I get back to my comfort zone.”
The stage version of “Flashdance the Musical,” the brainchild of composer Robbie Roth and lyricist Robert Cary, debuted in England in 2008 and hopped the Atlantic for its first national tour in 2013. Show creators took several songs from the 1983 Jennifer Beals-starring movie – notably “Gloria,” “Maniac” and the Oscar-winning “Flashdance: What a Feeling” – and fleshed out the stage version with about 15 more.
Despite some character merging and detail differences between movie and stage, the story is the same, about an 18-year-old Pittsburgh girl who is a gritty welder by day and an exotic club dancer by night who dreams of becoming an acclaimed classical dancer. She sets her sights on getting into a fancy dance academy, despite considerable odds, from money to social position to romance. It’s the classic story about holding on to your dreams no matter what.
“Alex is an independent human being who is chasing her dream. I feel connected to her. We all do because we all have goals,” says Macchio, who is making her musical stage debut although she has been in the movies “The Girl Most Likely” (2012) with Kristin Wiig and Annette Bening and in “Across Grace Alley” (2013) with Marsha Mason.
“In this (show) business, there are always challenges. I didn’t have drawbacks like Alex, but there is always competition. Our own insecurities become our obstacles. I identify with her because she doesn’t want anything handed to her,” says Macchio, daughter of film star Ralph Macchio, beloved for his trio of “The Karate Kid” movies.
“I am very close to my father, who is very supportive and gives me advice because he’s been on tour with a show (‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’). But he lets me work it out myself so that I know that I got it on my own.”
‘Flashdance the Musical’
What: Theater League offering of 2008 stage adaptation of the hit 1983 movie about a welder by day and club dancer by night who dreams of getting into a prestigious dance school
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu.
Tickets: $35-$70; 316-303-8100 or www.wichitatix.com