Remember Their Names

9.20.2009

By Noah Michelson

Thirty years ago, long before the dawn of reality TV dance-offs and American Idol, Alan Parker's Fame offered a look at the calloused triumphs and crushing disappointments of students struggling to make it big at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Now the Academy Award''winning film, which inspired a television series, a Broadway musical, and a nonmusical theatrical production of the same name, has been remade. Or as its young cast, including (from left) Asher Book, Paul McGill, and Walter Perez, prefers to see it, reinvented by director Kevin Tancharoen and screenwriter Allison Burnett.

'We pay homage, but it's not a shot-by-shot remake -- it's really its own movie,' says Perez, who plays Victor, an aspiring music producer. Other than a few winks and nods to the high camp of the 1980 original -- like a cafeteria jam session reminiscent of the classic 'Hot Lunch' scene and a revamped version of the iconic theme song -- little remains structurally from Parker's musical. Thematically, however, the quest for the spotlight is intensified by the competition arts students now face from those who take the low road to notoriety, e.g., uploading their reenactments of Beyonc's 'Single Ladies' routine to YouTube.

'It's not all about the 15 minutes of fame,' Perez says. 'We all know those reality stars and they have no real talent.' McGill, who plays Kevin, a gay ballet dancer who defects from his mother's Midwestern dance studio to the Big Apple's performing arts high school, agrees. 'You can either be famous for being famous -- like Paris Hilton or Perez Hilton, but that's really just infamy -- or you can keep working and become famous for your talent and your personality.'

Like its predecessor, which launched the careers of Irene Cara and Gene Anthony Ray, the film plucked fledgling actors from near obscurity in order to bolster the authenticity of what unfolds on the screen. 'If Zac Efron was playing my role, there wouldn't be that same desperation to succeed,' McGill says. 'There's something about our raw hunger that really shines through.'

'We've experienced exactly what you see,' says Book, who plays a singer named Marco and who, like McGill and several of his other cast mates, actually attended New York's Professional Performing Arts School. 'People come out to L.A. thinking they're going to suddenly become famous, but it's not like that -- we've been performing our whole lives.' Not that the actors were without mentors, on or off camera. To shepherd the young cast, the producers stocked the Fame faculty lounge with industry legends including Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, Debbie Allen (who starred in the original film and the television series), and Will & Grace alum Megan Mullally. 'Megan gave me a different vision of fame,' says Book. 'She told me to keep my eye on what was important'work hard and do your thing because the paparazzi tries to ruin people's lives.'

Fame hits theaters on Friday, September 25.

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