Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sunset Playhouse's FAME

By Russ Bickerstaff
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When a movie gets adapted into a stage musical, which is then turned into a musical movie, (The Producers, Hairspray, etc.) it kind of feels like the entertainment industry is eating itself—like big money is playing it so safe with its ideas that they’ve become inbred. But when a movie gets turned into a long-running TV series, then a stage musical, then gets adapted into a short-lived reality TV series, before being vaguely, sort-of-almost ripped-off by Disney, and finally getting updated for another trip to the big screen thirty years after its debut, it’s really more of a cultural phenomenon. Such is the case with FAME.

There is something very appealing about the high school drama of kids aspiring to the stage that was so succinctly explored by Christopher and Michael Gore. A little over two months before the latest film FAME makes it to the big screen, The Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove will be presenting its production of the 1988 stage musical adaptation of the original 1980 movie.

Daniel DeSilva--the producer behind the original film, was fascinated by high school for the performing arts in New York and promptly set to work producing a film that became hugely successful in 1980. He was also instrumental in it's musical adaptation. That being said, the musical is NOT a direct musical adaptation of the original film. “ . . . people expecting the movie and its songs will have to quickly adjust to the idea that the “Fame” creator, David De Silva, chose to rewrite the 1980 story and music significantly,” says Sunset artistic Director Mark Salentine. As a result, anyone with preconceptios and favorite characters from the movie or TV series will have a whole new group of personalities to get to know.

In big-budget productions of big, flashy musicals, there is often a drive to use actors over the age of 18 for various reasons. This detracts a bit from the feel of any drama between high schoolers--they look like they've been held-back 5-10 years or so  . . . it's weird and unnatural. Thankfully, Sunset Playhouse has put together a huge production here that seems more or less age representational to a story set in a New York High School for the performing arts. The cast consists of 21 actors, ages 14 – 50 . . . with the majority of the cast skewing towards 14. Salentine mentions a “median age” of 20, which is great. “. . . this particular show has some very passionate and dedicated young actors who are still learning the craft,” says Salentine, “There may be more ‘first-timers’ in this group than in previous Sunset plays under my direction.” The story behind the scenes sounds as compelling as what's going to be happening onstage . . . evidently there were some cast changes halfway through rehearsals . . . things have taken much longer to rehearse, choreograph and such than had been expected, which Salentine assures has been all quite manageable under the circumstances. “through all this, the cast (and crew!) has been incredibly supportive, positive, and professional with their attitude in this drawn-out process.” Really impressive for a cast younger than any Salentine's ever worked withbefore that is largely just beginning its journey onstage.

Sunset Playhouse’s production of FAME opens Friday, July 17th and runs though August 9th. My review of the show will appear in next week’s Shepherd-Express.

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