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A cast culled entirely from open auditions is ready
to show the tougher side of Performing Arts High
School in “Fame — The Musical!.” Performances
at Niagara Falls High School start this Friday.
By Kevin Purdy / purdyk@gnnewspaper.com
Greater Niagara Newspapers

“Fame,” as most any fan of the 1980 movie, subsequent television series or long-running Broadway musical will tell you, focuses on the drama inherent in a storied high school focused on performing arts.

IF YOU GO

What: “Fame — The Musical!,” presented by the Niagara Fine Arts Program.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, July 27 & 28.

Where: Performing Arts Center, Niagara Falls High School, 4455 Porter Road.

Tickets: $10 to $15, available by calling 286-7918 or e-mailing niagarafinearts@roadrunner.com.

Information: Visit www.niagarafinearts.org or call 284-5456.

Central to creating the sense of pressure the students feel when everyone tells them how amazing they are is the backdrop — a storied school, one that has seemingly been turning out stars since before Hollywood even existed.

Luckily, the inspiration for such a backdrop was just a short drive away, according to Patrick M. Kuciewski, executive director of the Niagara Fine Arts Program.

“If you're looking to recreate the last four years of a great building before it closes, the old Niagara Falls High School is just what you need,” Pusateri said. “Before it became the (Niagara Arts and Cultural Center), you could just sense the students walking through the hallways.”

But filling out “Fame,” which kicks off a two-weekend run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the newer Niagara Falls High School, 4455 Porter Road, required much more than just an authentic-feeling backdrop.

In a move fitting for a story of budding artistic ambition, open auditions were held in spring to fill out all of the 40 roles necessary, from the core of more than a dozen students and teachers to the dancers and singers needed to bring alive the renowned musical numbers.

Director Maureen A. Pusateri noted that cultural understanding and dialogue has changed significantly since the source film bowed in 1980 or even the first stage production in 1988. To delve into the mindset of a high school in the 1980s — think both big hair and big emotions — she and her actors watched seminal high school movies from the period and reviewed the references that pop up like Pop Rocks in the dialogue.

“It sounds easy to think about what it was like to be in high school, but there is just a drama that surrounds every little thing, details that seemed so enormous then that you almost laugh about now,” Pusateri said. “It's not just references to ‘The Breakfast Club' ... they didn't speak the way we speak now, and we tried to get in that frame of mind.”

The story moves through four years of school for an incoming group of students, each with their own perspective on art, sexuality, ambition and talent. By following the students, the musical moves through the seemingly separate worlds of the school's acting, music and dance programs.

Choreographer Gracie Shupp, Vocal Music Director Tom Vitello Jr. and Paul M. Wos, who leads the orchestra, had their hands full with scenes that “put as many people on stage as possible,” Pusateri said. Some among the young-looking cast were as fresh to musical theater as the characters they played, while others brought experience from regional school and community theater productions to bear.

Despite all the opportunities for delicious meta-irony during the casting process, Pusateri said there were no diva moments or artistic hissy-fits.

“One of the messages of the movie ... is that art always takes a lot of hard work, no matter who you are,” she said. “If you think you're going to be dancing on cars right out of graduation, you better think again.”

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