'FAME' lives - only this time the hit story returns as a musical
They weren't kidding when they said forever.
Twenty years after they danced into the streets singing about immortality in the hit 1980 film, a new batch of students from the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts is back in "FAME - The Musical," opening tomorrow at the Colonial Theatre.
The man responsible for all this youthful exuberance is producer David DeSilva. "Father Fame," as the delightful DeSilva calls himself, has been involved with some aspect of "Fame" since 1977, producing the original film and subsequent TV series.
DeSilva decided many years ago that the basic story - struggling young artists from all walks of life interact during four years of arts school - could have legs in the theater. This isn't your mother's "Fame," however. The show, with book by the late Jose Fernandez music by Jacques Levy and Steve Margoshes, has a similar story line but follows a different set of students and has all new music.
I didn't want to do the compilization of just taking songs from the film and TV show, which is what most shows do with this kind of background," said DeSilva, in town recently to promote the show. "I wanted to really create a musical, because the movie was not a musical; it had a soundtrack score and it had musical events."So unlike, say, "Footloose," which worked songs from the soundtrack into the characters' mouths, the "Fame" team went back to the drawing board, keeping only the '80s setting and the title song, and making the kids aware of the movie.
"In fact," said Desilva, "the homeroom teacher says to the incoming class, 'If you've come here because you envision yourself living forever and dancing on cars down 46th Street, you're humming the wrong tune.'"
The producers decided to keep the era intact for what it represents. "I'm happy that we're set in the early '80s, which was looking back, a very romantic time. It was pre-AIDS awareness on a high school level and pre-metal detectors and, "DeSilva said, laughing, "the president was an actor. It seems like it was a simpler time. I'm happy to let 'Rent' be the '90s and 'Grease' be the '50s."
DeSilva acknowledges that the phenomenal success of "Rent" could be a boon to "Fame."
"I think anything in the theater that's a rock musical and that breaks new ground or is good in any way helps everything else."
And just as that show struck a chord with young theatergoers, DeSilva has seen "Fame" do the same worldwide. Planned and rehearsed in nonprofit theaters in Florida and Pennsylvania, the show's break came in 1993 when Music Theatre International published "Fame - The Musical." This resulted in the China Theatre of Stockholm putting on a major million-dollar production for two seasons in Swedish.
"Right now there are productions that are scheduled to open and perform in Australia, Denmark..." said DeSilva. " The Dutch are in rehearsal. Spanish kids are doing it in Buenos Aires, the Polish kids are in their second year, the Japanese kids are in their third year of touring."
Productions have also been staged in South Africa, Germany, Canada and now the United States. With the advent of e-mail, DeSilva said kids who see the show immediately are contacting cast members, telling them "how inspirational it is."
And that's his hope. So much so DeSilva doesn't want the show to go to Broadway and stay. Since he sees universal appeal, if and when it goes to Broadway, "I would like to treat New York as just one of the stops."
DeSilva sees "Fame" as his "mission in life" and has set up the "Father Fame Foundation" to work on future projects. His enthusiasm stems from his view that "magnet schools are good for education."
"What makes it great is that it )the play) brings kids - rich, poor, black, white, Asian, Latino - to one school from different backgrounds. This is very special. And, of course, if you're bringing them there because they dance, sing, act and play music, there's a good idea for a musical."
One that DeSilva sees, well, living forever. His dreams include doing the show with real kids as a "summer 'Nutcracker'" in new York and a "Fifteen Minutes of Fame" public TV series touting arts education and gifted kids.
"When 'Fame' opened," DeSilva said, :"the High School of the Performing Arts became known as the 'Fame' school, and now, within the last 20 years, there really are many 'Fame' schools, and I'd like to think that we were a part of that happening."
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