The Salem News
By Rebecca Schoonmaker
BEVERLY — David De Silva, the man behind "Fame," has seen his creation go from a movie to a television show to a musical.
He has seen it performed all over the world, hearing the show in Spanish, German and Japanese.
But he has never seen it in the round.
On Tuesday night, he will have that chance when he watches "Fame — The Musical" as it opens at the North Shore Music Theatre.
"I'm really looking forward to the North Shore Music Theatre experience," De Silva said. "I grew up hearing about it, and now I have a chance to go."
"Fame" is the second show of the theater's 50th anniversary season and has never been performed at the 1,800-seat venue before. NSMT Artistic Director Jon Kimbell says the celebration and energy of a cast made up of youth actors brings the flair the theater is looking to exhibit this season.
"'Fame' is a concept piece that really explores the creative process and young people pursuing a career in the arts," he said. "There is no real major storyline, it's about just getting to know the joys of (the students') lives."
First released as a movie in theaters, and then made into a television show in the 1980s, "Fame" became a hit as a musical after it premiered off Broadway in 1995. The story takes place at New York City's High School for the Performing Arts in the early '80s, following the students through a demanding academic schedule as well as their struggles with identity, race, sex, drugs and more.
"They deal with major, major issues that young people face as they grow up," Kimbell said. "You really get to know these kids from the time they enter school until they graduate."
De Silva, who NSMT invited to the opening night, lived his entire life in New York City. Although he was always interested in theater, he never attended the High School for the Performing Arts, but was still inspired by a specialized school and the idea of going to one.
But he wanted "Fame" to stand apart from another popular musical set in a high school.
"It's sometimes is compared to 'Grease,'" De Silva said. "But 'Grease' is pure entertainment, it really doesn't have the message. I'm happy this is entertainment and has a message."
De Silva adds that "Fame" has a "tremendous social conscience" and is less musical comedy and more a story to which the average student can relate.
To capture the feel of the high school experience, director and choreographer Richard Stafford looked for young actors at the February auditions in New York and then selected 12 North Shore high school students to round out the cast as members of the ensemble.
"We didn't want people who are 28 and look 18," Stafford said. "The teens help with that. They add authenticity."
"They haven't been jaded, but they're not completely naive at all," added associate choreographer Jonathan Stahl. "We were able to find what we wanted."
Chris Martel, who is 15 and from Salem, found that being a part of a show was not too different from everyday life for him and his fellow students, especially since he plays the drums in his high school band.
"It's just like us," he says. "What kid doesn't want to make it?"
The teen members of the cast have endured a grueling schedule since rehearsals started May 15; they'd come straight from school for four hours four times a week and worked on the show all weekend. But they agree that the opportunity to be a part of the production and work with professional actors is a valuable one.
"It's a really different experience," said 13-year-old Alison Sabean of Salem. "It's like nothing I've ever done."
After learning she had gotten a role in the show, Sabean and her twin sister, Amy, who is also in the ensemble, rented the movie.
But they feel the live show will be much more exciting, because of the singing and the nonstop energy of the musical version.
As well as performing onstage, the teens will be in the theater and the lobby prior to the show, playing instruments, practicing dance moves, and warming up their voices to bring the audience members into the concept of a performing arts school before the show even begins.
Stafford, who has also directed "Cats" and "Swing" at NSMT, directed "Fame" once before, but is looking forward to presenting the production on the North Shore.
"I think the bar is very high here," he said. "It's all Broadway caliber."
Likewise, Kimbell said the theater is happy to have Stafford back.
"He really knows how to move people," Kimbell said. "He understands the whole concept of youth."
Baby, remember their names
North of Boston teens performing in the North Shore Music Theatre's production of "Fame — The Musical":
Kelly Buck, North Andover
If you go
What: "Fame" the musical
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