Radio 09.25.09
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
“Fame” is the kind of musical that just begs to be re-made.  The premise, back in 1980, was to showcase some of the most talented high school students from the New York Academy of Performing Arts, and that movie launched the career of Irene Cara, as well as spawning a television show that lasted several seasons.
Today, that same school is called LaGuardia, and the young people we see in this film are considerably older than high school.  But it’s still kind of a blast of energy to see these talented young performers seemingly break into a spontaneous jam session in the lunch room.  Even the auditions crackle with anticipation, and ooze with raw talent.  Unfortunately, some of the acting performances are kind of uneven, which is what happens sometimes when you find gifted musicians and dancers who don’t necessarily have acting experience.  Unfortunately, some of the dance numbers seem overblown, especially for a high school, which is what happens when the Director hones his craft from a Britney Spears tour.  “Fame” is supposed to be a kind of chronicling of their academic careers, everything from the intimidating opening speech by the hard-nosed principal to the personal emotional challenge of demanding teachers to some of the student’s struggles with parental expectations, sometimes to achieve mightily there, and sometimes not wanting them there at all. 
Yes, it’s heartbreaking for a kid to hear that’s he’s never going to make it in showbiz, but better to be told then than waste a lot of everyone’s time later.  Yes, fledgling musicians can be swindled into bogus record contracts, victimized by their transparent eagerness to succeed.  And yes, an aspiring young actress can also be suddenly introduced to the casting couch, and must decide between her ambitions and her inhibitions. 
This self-conscious re-make features the awesome singing talent of Naturi Naughton, who isn’t exactly an unknown (she was on “Soul Train” six years ago), but her powerful presence is unmistakable, as is the startlingly clear voice of Asher Book (who was on “Pop Rocks” five years ago).   
In a pre-American Idol world, we all enjoyed thinking that the obscure “best and the brightest” would get noticed by veteran teachers who would care enough to help them develop their artistic talent.  Today, we have more people, nationwide, voting on “American Idol” than we do in a Presidential election, and their regional auditions are a veritable cultural phenomenon.  So, the times aren’t the same as in 1980.  But this re-make is welcome, anyway, because we always enjoy watching great talent, even if occasionally overproduced.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93-5 KICK-FM.