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Home > Past Buzz > Musical based on "Fame" movie reaches New York

By Frederick M. Winship NEW YORK, Nov. 28 (UPI)

After bouncing around the world for a decade, a musical based on the 1980 movie "Fame" has come home to the city where it is set in the hope of attracting a new generation of young audiences that its creator, De Silva, says will keep the show running "forever."
Re-titled "Fame on 42nd Street" to reflect its new address at the Off Broadway Little Shubert Theater on West 42nd Street, the show has an original book by Jose Fernandez, loosely based on the MGM movie and the television series syndicated in 68 countries, and new music by Steve Margoshes with lyrics by Jacques Levy. The movie's title anthem by Dean Pitchford, which won a Best Oscar, has been kept in the show.
De Silva, who has been nicknamed "Father Fame" has devoted more than 25 years to this one property and sees himself as a man with a mission.
He states in the program that the show's "youth-oriented idealism of pursuing the performing arts in education will always be an inspiration to young people everywhere." He has set up a foundation that supports high school apprentice programs in New York City that cover all aspects of professional theater and is organizing a summer workshop program for super talented students.
"Fame on 42nd Street" may have lost some of its freshness of the original "Fame," but the exhilarating experience of watching a disparately talented group of youngsters at Manhattan's High School for the Performing Arts achieve their aspirations is still there for audiences that don't mind having their emotions shamelessly manipulated.
The performances are first rate and the singing, dancing and music making are unfailingly enjoyable under the capable direction of Drew Scott Harris.
The actual High School, located on West 46th, closed it's doors in 1984 and was absorbed into the LaGuardia High School at Lincoln Center. The show is about its class of 1984, focusing on four years of trials, tribulations and triumphs leading to a graduation day finale and the rousing choral rendition of "Bring on Tomorrow" that reflects the students' confidence in the marketability of their skills.
Granted, some of the students appear to be stereotypes as conceived by Fernandez, and actor-writer who died of AIDS in 1994. But the young cast members are generally able to overcome this weakness by the individuality of their performances. Although an ensemble production, there are two real standouts in the cast, Shakiem Evans as a black illiterate named Tyrone and Nicole Leach as a Latina drug addict named Carmen.
Evans exudes personality as a handsome, muscular youngster troubled by dyslexia but full of pride in his achievements as a performer, as Leach is a powerhouse as a sassy, sexy starlet on the rise. Excellent in other roles are Christopher J. Hanke as an over-sensitive student of acting, Dennis Moench as the gangly violinist son of a Jewish violin virtuoso, Sara Schmidt, as an actress who aspires to be like Meryl Streep and Jose Restrepo as a would-be comedian.
Outstanding in adult roles are Cheryl Freeman, a stiff-backed English teacher who has little sympathy for her students' shortcomings, Nancy Hess, a dance teacher who may empathize with her students too much for their own good, and Peter Reardon, who plays a fatherly instructor continually confused by the loud, raffish student activity that swirls around him, often threatening to get out of control.
But of course the kids really have hearts of gold and secretly long for adult direction and encouragement. They sing together and solo, belting out the catchy Margoshes-Levy ballads, raps and soul tunes with winning gusto, tossing off Fernandez's rather pedestrian dialogue with disarming flair, and making Lars Bethke's athletic choreography look better than it really is.
The hall and stairwell of the battered old school, whose motto was "Fame costs, and this is where you start paying." has been lovingly recreated by set designer Norbert U. Kolb and creatively lighted by Ken Billington. Paul Tazewell's costumes are cool and help define the personality of the actors wearing them. Sound designer Christopher K. Bond has contributed a noisy symphony of police sirens, car horns, jackhammer jolts and subway noises as a preclude to each of the show's two acts.
The musical version of "Fame" has been around since 1990, but a hit Swedish production in 1993 launched its phenomenal global popularity that has seen it licensed for production in cities on five continents. More than three million people have seen the show in London since it opened there in 1995 for a run continuing without end in sight at the Aldwych Theater.
New productions of the show are planned for 2004 in Italy, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Japan and Switzerland, and a road company will tour 100 cities in the United States.

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