Sunday, February 14, 2010

FAME THE MUSICAL--Interesting Additional Facts


It all started with one man-- David De Silva, who, although he had no connection to New York's High School for Performing Arts, was endlessly fascinated by the institution, and the dedication and passion of the students there. De Silva, known as "Father Fame" conceived and developed the now classic 1980 film, as well as the television series, the reality show, and finally, the stage version of FAME: THE MUSICAL.

Although the show didn't arrive in New York until 2004, FAME-THE MUSICAL was first presented at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida in 1988. Since then, it has become an international phenomenon, with productions in Spain, Australia, Japan, Poland, Hungary, Mexico and Korea, to name but a few. In London, the show has played six separate times since 1995, and has been running continuously at the Aldwych Theatre since 2002. The New York production played Off-Broadway at the Little Shubert Theater. It was directed by Drew Scott Harris and spawned a cast recording that was released in 2004.

A CurtainUp Review
Fame On 42nd Street
By Brad Bradley

Hallelujah! Three minutes into this effervescent high-energy show, I knew I was enjoying myself. After enduring horridly annoying retreads of rocking movie musicals lamely adapted for the stage (the likes of Footloose and Saturday Night Fever), I was prepared for the worst. But, wondrously, David De Silva, this project's longtime promoter and developer, along with a top-notch company, has brought it off. His Fame on 42nd Street is a terrific stage adaptation that matches the challenges of the live medium, presenting a gallery of interesting, convincing characters, singing and dancing in a manner that soars the spirit and soothes the soul as well.

While the opening song, "Pray I Make P.A" set in 1980 and sung by hopeful freshman students to New York's High School of Performing Arts in a series of isolated spotlights, does start with repetitive and monotonous utterances, this lackluster device in no way reflects the sparkling show to follow. Dynamite explodes by song's end, and never lets up until after the last note the post-bows finale a little more than two hours later.

Director Drew Scott Harris has assembled a wonderful cast, and works his ensemble hard; the actors' tasks include the moving of sets and props to maintain the show's brisk, even driving pace, and Swedish choreographer Lars Bethke keeps the company virtually airborne in exhilarating dances.

This remarkable cast of 22 (18 students and four teachers) is truly an ensemble, with even the chorus members having ample opportunity to shine. The entire cast is appealing, certainly including the two most troubled teens as beautifully played by Shakiem Evans and Nicole Leach, both key musical resources in this Fame. Evans, playing a dancer with great talent but impoverished in his discipline and even basic academic skills, not only presents an electric dance solo, but also has honed an arc of character development that moves many to tears. Other standouts include Cheryl Freeman as an English teacher who understands the scarring of the streets, Christopher J. Hanke as an acting student with unusual professional maturity masking his uncertain social development, Dennis Moench as a precocious violinist trying to escape his famous parent's shadow, Sara Schmidt as an uncertain but determined young actress, and Michael Kary, shining even in a peripheral role as a trumpet player.

The score (excepting only the unavoidable iconic title tune written for the 1980 film and central to the six-year-long television series) is new, and quite attractive. Composer Steve Margoshes and Lyricist Jacques Levy have fashioned a collection of songs that effectively service their story and characters, and comfortably fit both the period and contemporary ears, including even manageable doses of Spanish in deference to the multi-cultural nature of the population, both onstage and in New York City in general. Highlights include "I Want to Make Magic", an actor's vocal solo counter pointed by an upstage violin lesson, "Think of Meryl Streep", a gospel-style assertion by Q. Smith as a chubby street-wise girl who rechannels her dream from dancing to acting, 'These are My Children", Miss Sherman's riveting blues anthem, and "Let's Play a Love Scene", a touching unexpected connection that is emblematic of the genuine emotional and theatrical center of this lovable show.

Musical book writers rarely get the credit they deserve, only the blame when a show fails to work, and the late Jose Fernandez did a masterful job of balancing more than a dozen key characters into a fine stage tapestry. He unfortunately lived to see his work staged only in Stockholm in 1993, missing the extraordinary and deserved international success that a decade later finally has found its way to New York.

Although set in the intimate new Little Shubert, about half the size of the smaller Broadway musical venues, Fame has production values to burn, with a wonderful use of levels and textures in the mostly school building locations designed by Norbert U. Kolb. Paul Tazewell's sharp costumes and Ken Billington's powerhouse lighting add to the design pizzazz. Fame on 42nd Street knows its goals and achieves them. Its predictable line that "artists are special" gets full endorsement here. This sometimes crusty critic left the theater on a performance high.


Perform is what the buoyant new musical, Fame, does dance number after exhilarating dance number, song after sweet song, never losing sight of its mission to entertain... a nice sensitivity to the condition of being young and hopeful and gifted... Exhilarating."
- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Completely uplifting, something that speaks to the quiet idealism
in all of us."
-The Miami Herald

"Wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from Fame - The Musical."
-Mail on Sunday

"Engages passionately with the here and now."
- Evening Standard"

Fame -- The Musical' will live forever in high schools everywhere
By Denise Grollmus
Beacon Journal staff writer

Pirouetting through the hallways of a New York City performing arts high school in leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweat shirts, the feisty Irene Cara emblazoned the taste for Fame into every little girl's hot-pink '80s heart.

But dancing on taxicabs and ``making it'' was not necessarily the message Fame's creator David DeSilva was trying to send.

``It's not that I'm pushing kids to be professional performers,'' DeSilva said. ``The theme of the show is not about making it, it's really about finding the arts and letting them make a difference in your life, whatever you do. Whatever you do in your life you're going to do better if you expose yourself to the arts.''

DeSilva, known to his fans as ``Father Fame,'' has made the story line of struggling performing arts school teens something of a cottage industry for himself, as the creator and executive producer of the 1980 Oscar-winning film, the long-running television program, and the reality show, all of which are called Fame.

Improving on the finer points of the film, DeSilva has finally taken the cult classic to the stage as Fame -- The Musical, coming Tuesday and Wednesday to Cleveland's Palace Theater.

``It's really gonna live forever as live theater,'' he said.

``I don't think the movie or the TV show really captured it the way the musical does. It's not the same as it is on the stage, where no two performances are the same and young people all over the world can do it,'' DeSilva said.

``The creative process just stops once the camera stops rolling. Here, the creative process is infinite.''

If you go to the show expecting to hear Hot Lunch or to witness a Cara-incarnate named ``Coco,'' you'll be much surprised because Fame -- The Musical is not a stage-mounting of the original film.

In fact, even the diverse group of characters within the musical have criticisms to air about the movie.

As the musical begins with the first day of freshman year, the homeroom teacher announces: ``If you've come here because you think you're gonna live forever or envision dancing on cars down 46th Street, you're humming the wrong tune.''

With a whole new arsenal of songs, thanks to lyricist Jacques Levy and composer Steve Margoshes, and characters courtesy of writer Jose Fernandez, Fame -- The Musical is being performed everywhere from off-Broadway to Norway and from professional theaters to high schools.

DeSilva said that the intention of creating the musical was to allow enough flexibility for every director and young actor to put his or her own stamp on the show's flavor.

But a few things do remain the same: The iconic theme song, Fame, is still present along with the 1980s leg warmers and the trials and tribulations of everyday teen life.

``I decided to keep the musical set in the '80s, because I wanted this to be the story about the last class to graduate from the old school building before it moves to a more modern building in Lincoln Center,'' DeSilva said.

``So I decided to make this the class of 1984, following them through all four years of school. That was a special thing to do theatrically, that this is the last class from the old school.''

DeSilva first created the story when he became fascinated by the idea of magnet schools, particularly New York City's LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts.

``I believe these magnet schools are really the best thing in education. If your kid has a special talent, they can receive special attention for that and really make the most of it and not just in the performing arts, but computer science, or whatever it may be that someone excels at,'' he said.

Since the advent of the first Fame incarnation, magnet schools, and particularly performing arts schools -- dubbed ``Fame schools'' -- have skyrocketed in popularity.

``There is at least one performing arts school in every major city, and when we made this film, that just wasn't true. It's amazing how many performing arts schools are everywhere, now,'' DeSilva said.

(Akron's Miller South Visual and Performing Arts Middle School is not just an example of DeSilva's beloved magnet school structure, but they take it to a whole new level by introducing children in grades 4 through 8 to their talents at an even younger age and integrating the arts into every aspect of academics, said principal Margot Snider.)

For DeSilva, the most crucial aspect of the New York run of Fame -- The Musical is its adjoining apprentice program for high school juniors to get a taste of professional theater.

DeSilva also hopes to make the show an annual event at performing arts high schools around the nation. He is already in discussion with the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts to kick off the program with a performance at the end of this year.

``I wouldn't have created any other show like this,'' DeSilva said.

``I feel that this is something I was destined to do. I channel the energy that is Fame.''

No comments: