We, especially those of us of a certain age, likely remember the name. “Fame,” the 1980 film revived (to limited success) in 2009 has come roaring back to life in 2019, in its original format for the stage, fueled by the small theater company at GALA Hispanic Theatre now in its 43rd year.
The beloved story of high school students at a performing arts school in New York has been repackaged by Luis Salgado, who directs and choreographed the latest production performed both in English and Spanish simultaneously, adding a new dimension to the already upbeat and catchy music that became a cultural phenomenon.
From the opening number, “Hard Work,” featuring the rather large cast (for the size of the theatre and stage), “Fame” explodes out of the gates and never lets up on the gas pedal.
Following the story of a few of the students who are training to be actors, dancers and musicians and their teachers, this ingenious production that speaks to Latinx and non-Spanish speakers alike, flows in and out of the two languages effortlessly, calling to mind the language that some from the Big Apple refer to as “Nuyorican” or “Spanglish.”
Live music drives the steadily pumping energy of the more than two-hour musical that spares excess dialogue to tell the stories through iconic tunes such as “I Want to Make Magic,” sung in glorious bravado by Carlos Salazar (Nick), a privileged student who is not content with average acting, but aspires to absolute excellence.
The offstage band is led by legendary drummer Walter “Bobby” McCoy, who steers the nine-piece musical support to the musicians on stage.
The subtitles in English and Spanish make sure that the audience doesn’t lose track of the dialogue, but the music really does all the speaking necessary to tie together the dynamic dance scenes, heartfelt ballads and big musical numbers.
Other show-stoppers are Susan Oliveras’ solo. Playing English teacher Esther Sherman, who drives a hard academic tradeoff for the talented children, she belts out “These Are My Children.” After she slaps one disrespectful student, Tyrone, Oliveras captures the sentiments of stressed teachers who have to sometimes administer tough love.
The dyslexic and illiterate student, Tyrone (Romainson Roman) gets the spotlight in both acts of the musical, telling his own story in “Tyrone’s Rap,” and accompanied by amped-up backup dancers in the ensemble on “Dancin’ on the Sidewalk.”
“If I had the chance to contribute as a faculty member to a ‘Fame SCHOOL’ what would my contribution be?” Luis Salgado asked rhetorically. “‘Fame the Musical’ was the first off-Broadway show in which I performed after I moved to NYC in 2002. It was the beginning of my Broadway career. It was a great welcome to NYC. Today we welcome a new generation of artists who bring their humanity to their art and share it.”
The GALA Theatre production cast is very young, some not even out of high school themselves, including students on stage and behind the scenes from Duke Ellington School of the Arts and George Mason University.
“It makes all the sense in the world to tell this story now and through a new lens — in celebration of Jose Fernandez (the Cuban creator of the original musical) in the nation’s capital and under the roof of a historical venue,” Salgado continued. “I look forward to dancing and singing the theme song with you and better yet dare to dream, to work hard together. … I have the utmost respect and admiration for each one of the dreamers you see on stage.”
Librettist Jose Fernandez died at age 46 in January 1994. The original musical was conceived and developed by David De Silva with music by Steve Margoshes.
“Fame the Musical” seems as if it will live forever, and hopes for this production to expand beyond the GALA Theatre are part and parcel of the big dreams that Salgado has for the musical, which deserves to be seen by those remembering the original and a whole new generation of fans.
“Fame the Musical,” a Latinx reimagining of the iconic hit, plays at the GALA Hispanic Theatre through June 9 and making its U.S. Premiere at the historic theater housed in the old Tivoli movie theater at 3333 14th Street NW. For tickets, call 202-234-7174 or go to galatheatre.org.