Did you love Fame the movie, the TV series and The Kids from Fame? Take a trip back to the 1980s with us
PUBLISHED: 18:40 12 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:45 12 September 2018
The summer of 1980 and I’m still a teenager. With room to spare. I don’t bop in public (lack of rhythm, self-conscious, feet with minds of their own) but in a parallel world I’m a lithesome Nureyev, swaying to a post-disco beat.
Only those without a pulse could fail to be moved that July as, on the big screen, pliable youths spilled out of New York’s High School of Performing Arts, brought traffic to a halt and danced along 46th Street – and over cars.
It was the extrovert father of introvert composer Bruno Martelli who caused it. Trying to put some practical oomph behind his son’s musical genius, he parked his yellow cab outside the college, plonked a loudspeaker on the roof, and played Bruno’s (cassette-tape!) song at full volume.
Who could resist doing pirouettes to the bouncy electro-pop as Irene Cara belted out words that have stayed with us nearly 40 years?
I can catch the moon in my hands
Don’t you know who I am
Remember my name
I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly
Baby remember my name
Schmaltzy? Course. Love it. In a UK that remembered the Winter of Discontent and its public sector strikes, and was getting used to the Margaret Thatcher revolution, the happy and optimistic tunes of film Fame delivered a real feelgood factor (although parts of the story were very gritty and dark).
(Musically, America could do with something similarly joyful and uplifting at the moment, don’t you think?)
It wasn’t a one-off. For the film directed by Brit Alan Parker launched a mini-industry (and brought Oscars for best original song – no prizes for guessing which one – and best original score, and a Golden Globe award).
That title track topped the singles charts here, and in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Then came a TV series, hugely popular here, featuring four of the film’s cast members and running from 1982 to 1987. Like the movie, it followed the lives of students and staff at the fictional performing arts school. (There is a real one: the Fiorello H LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.)
We also had The Kids from Fame – cast members from the TV series who had chart success in a stellar summer of 1982. Their album topped the UK charts, while singles Hi Fidelity and Starmaker peaked at five and three respectively.
There were some live shows in the UK late that year, and a tour of Europe early the next, including a date at the Royal Albert Hall in London. There were reports that all wasn’t sweetness and light behind the scenes on the tours, though, including Gene Anthony Ray wrecking a dressing room at one venue.
More than 35 years after that peak, the magic remains – hence the 30th anniversary tour of Fame The Musical running across the UK for the next year and featuring Mica Paris and ex-Hollyoaks star Jorgie Porter.
Why did we – do we – love Fame so? Well, it brought together lots of people with dreams but different qualities and personalities – shy; a struggler academically; an all-rounder; a near-star who ends up waiting tables – and more.
There was something for everyone to identify with. Coupled with strong three-dimensional stories, and that cracking music, it was a winning formula. The touring musical carries the torch, touching on issues that still affect young people today – such as working out who they are, struggles with reading and writing, prejudice and sexuality.
Fame was also about working hard to chase your dream – and “winning”, even if you fell short. Just as long as you’d given your all.
As dance teacher Lydia Grant said in the TV series, “You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. In sweat.” That’s as true today as it was in the 1980s.
What came next?
Irene Cara (student Coco Hernandez): Won best original song Oscar after co-writing and singing song ‘Flashdance... What a Feeling’ from 1983 film Flashdance. Has made several albums; numerous TV, stage and film credits. Has a band called Hot Caramel.
Gene Anthony Ray (dancer Leroy Johnson, a tough guy from the housing projects who is a natural dancer, and later shows his softer side): Actually went to the real High School of the Performing Arts but was kicked out after a year. Had film and TV roles, but also tough times when he’d sleep on a park bench. Problems with drink and drugs. Died in November, 2003, of complications following a stroke five or six months earlier. Was 41.
Debbie Allen (dance teacher Lydia Grant): Aged 68. Numerous TV roles and directing credits. Married to ex-basketball player. Three children. Has played Dr Catherine Avery in TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy since 2011.
Lee Curreri (keyboardist Bruno Martelli, loathe to play in public): Aged 57. A songwriter and producer who has worked with performers including Natalie Cole (daughter of Nat King Cole) and Kid Creole.
Albert Hague (aged music teacher Mr Shorofsky; originally horrified by Bruno’s passion for electronic music): A real-life songwriter, composer and actor, born in Berlin in 1920. Wrote Broadway musicals in 1950s and ’60s. Composed music for TV cartoon How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Died of cancer in 2001, at 81.
Lori Singer (cellist Julie Miller in TV series): Born 1957. Father was a conductor and mother a concert pianist. Made bow as solo singer with Oregon Symphony when 13. Trained as cellist at The Juilliard School in Manhattan.
Starred as Ariel Moore in 1984 film Footloose. Other films included The Falcon and the Snowman, Summer Heat, and Short Cuts (which won best ensemble Golden Globe award). Lead in 1995 TV sci-fi series VR.5. Guest star on TV in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Joint executive producer on documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which won clutch of awards, including five prime-time Emmys and was Oscar-nominated.
Feel the beat
The 30th anniversary tour of Fame The Musical is at the Ipswich Regent from Monday, October 29 to Saturday, November 3.
It stars Keith Jack (Any Dream Will Do, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), Mica Paris (Love Me Tender, Chicago) and Jorgie Porter (Hollyoaks).
Fame the Musical has had seven West End runs since opening on Broadway in 1988.