The original Fame (1980) galvanized a generation of youth and made dreaming cool. It had energizing music, characters like none before and a story people could identify with: reaching for your dreams in spite of the odds. The 2009 version may not be as innovative but it’s definitely worth watching and sends the same message.
The newer Fame (2009) does a good job of measuring up to the earlier version. It follows a group of students from auditions for New York City’s School for the Performing Arts or PA, through their senior year. New music including hip hop and rap and a couple of tunes from the original, modern clothing and hair styles and a whole new cast of performers looking for Fame, the movie speaks to a new generation.
The standout performer in this generation of high school star-wannabes is Naurtri Naughton. She portrays a meek classical pianist following the dreams daddy has for her. Along the way, she makes friends, develops confidence and discovers she also has an incredible voice. She sings On My Own, Irene Cara’s solo piece from the original movie and does a knock-out job. The yearning for a dream she as yet does not think she will ever achieve oozes from her song and makes you ache for her. She’s that good.
Asher Book plays Marco, another singer who’s grown up singing and playing the piano in his papa’s restaurant. He has a gift for knowing how to sell a song. His experience and confidence assure him of fame someday. Every nuance, every emotion plays on his face while his voice melts your heart. From the audition day through graduation, Marco has eyes only for innocent and sweet Jenny.
Jenny wants to be an actress. She’s full of intensity and drive but doesn’t know how to relax and have fun. Forced to sing she warbles’s Someone to Watch over Me with all the feeling of bagel. As she matures, she finds not only her voice but her acting chops and learns lessons about the nature of the business from some unscrupulous people. Her relationship with Marco also takes a few ups and downs as she learns that what’s important in life isn’t always fame.
Kherington Payne and Paul McGill portray dancers. Payne is showcased in several numbers and is spectacular to watch. McGill plays the part of an Iowa farm boy who learned to dance in mother’s studio. He’s not quite as good as everyone in the school so we never really get to see what he can do on the dance floor. He faces his moment of truth when in his senior year, he learns he may not have what it takes to turn professional.
The staff is engagingly played by Kelsey Grammer as a music teacher, Bebe Neuwirth as the dance instructor, Megan Mullally as the voice teacher and Charles S Dutton as the drama teacher. All the teachers care deeply about the students and push them to be the best they can. A small role as Principal Simms finds Debbie Allen, the original dance instructor from both the 1980 movie and the television show that followed, returning to the School of the Performing Arts.
In some places, the story feels a little rushed and we don’t get to see inside the kids as much as we’d like but the numbers are energetic and tender by turn. While I missed some of the old faces, there’s a new class every year and these faces will become just as familiar and loved.