Movie musicals were a dying breed by the time MGM’s Fame hit theaters in 1980. However, the contemporary, R & B-flavored drama was a hit, and it subsequently kept the genre on life support for another couple of years.
Now that the big-screen musical is alive and well again, it seems only natural that an update of Fame is on the horizon. It opens nationwide on September 25. Set, like the original, in NYC’s real-life High School of the Performing Arts, the update follows a number of talented teens yearning to become stars of stage and/or screen.
Recently, I was treated to a private, extended preview of scenes from the new Fame. The film was still in post-production, but the footage I saw was promising. I was afraid the songs and dance numbers might be High School Musical-esque. Instead, they are more classically-staged and quite beautiful. A circus-set piece and the climactic graduation ceremony look spectacular, and a number choreographed to Sam Sparro's Grammy nominated “Black and Gold” could be an homage to the sexy “Take Off With Us” from Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, only with more clothing ... these are teenagers after all. (You can catch a glimpse of these scenes in the film's trailer.)
In addition to the new songs, Fame 2009 includes covers of the hit, Oscar-winning title song from the original as well as the popular “Out Here On My Own.” The remake is directed by 25-year old Kevin Tancharoen and choreographed by Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks.
Actress-dancer Debbie Allen, from the original film and the early 80’s TV show it inspired, now plays the principal of the school. Other actors cast as faculty members include a host of theatre luminaries, some of them GLBT faves: Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton and Kelsey Grammer.
On the negative side, the film’s PR rep told me there are no gay characters in the new Fame, which is a marked contrast from the original. The 1980 film included a gay character, Montgomery, played by Paul McCrane. Even if the part is pretty stereotypical in hindsight, it was groundbreaking at the time.
Still, I intend to see the new Fame, both in an effort to remember my own, artistically-inclined youth and to seek inspiration for my life today.
UPDATE: Fame is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.