Tuesday, April 17, 2001
PREVIEW: 'Fame' keeps its place in the spotlight
Movie, TV show now thrives onstage with classic story of talented teens.
By KEN WHITE
At least that's the opinion of David De Silva, creator of the 1980 Oscar-winning movie about students at New York's High School of the Performing Arts on West 46th Street. De Silva's idea grew into a TV series in 1982 that had a six-year run, first on NBC and then in syndication.
Fifteen years later, "Fame" premiered as a stage musical and the touring company is going into its third year on the road. It plays seven performances starting Wednesday at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts.
"Part of me thought `Fame' would last, and the other part of me is surprised," says De Silva, who also produced the MGM film and served as consulting producer on the TV series.
A native New Yorker, De Silva didn't attend the school for aspiring actors, dancers and musicians. "But it tapped into all of my interests. And I was always aware of it," he says. "It's organically musical. It's a nice multicultural tapestry."
De Silva doesn't blow his own horn when it comes to taking a lot of credit for coming up with the concept. "If I hadn't done it, someone else would have," he says.
Why it has lasted is a matter of timing -- "It's really an '80s phenomenon, we're retro," De Silva says -- and the way an audience "relates to motivated kids," he adds.
The musical, with a book by José Fernandez, lyrics by Jacques Levy and music by Steve Margoshes, follows the students' four years from audition to graduation.
"It's inspirational for young people," De Silva says. "Underneath the surface are several messages, about illiteracy, staying in school and staying off drugs."
When De Silva put the story on film, there were few magnet schools around the country of the "Fame" variety. Now, he points out, there's one in Las Vegas, as well as in other communities across the country.
De Silva often gets e-mail from students who've seen the show. They tell him how inspiring it is. And it isn't popular only in the United States.
While there have been hundreds of productions by high school theater classes in America, "Fame" has traveled well around the world, too -- there have been productions in Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Spain, China, Japan and Korea.
The current touring company started in 1998 and has had a few cast changes over the years. De Silva says there's a lot of talent out there to choose from but "there's not a tremendous amount of shows out there for young performers. With `Fame,' kids get involved through open casting calls, they don't need an agent."
Heading the 24-member cast, with an additional nine musicians, are Christopher J. Hanke as Nick Piazza; Jennifer Gambatese as Serena Katz; Jose Restrepo as Jose "Joe" Vegas; Caren Lyn Manuel as Carmen Diaz; Wandah Kay as Mabel Washington; Jessica Lindsey Cohen as Grace "Lambchops" Lamb; and Regina Le Vert as Ester Sherman.
The musical was directed and choreographed by Lars Bethke, whose choreography credits include, "We're Fine Thanks" and "Lolita."
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