Fame (2009)

Starring: Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally, Kay Panabaker, Collins Pennie, Naturi Naughton, Kherington Payne, Asher Book, Kirsty Flores

Directed by: Kevin Tancharoen

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

The cast of the TV show of Fame

'Fame costs! And right here is where you start paying. In sweat.'
Oh, how those words thrilled the heart of any self-respecting pre-teen in the early '80s who happened to be in possession of a catsuit and a dream.

Now, over 25 years later, the cosy legwarmers and cheesy pop hits may have been traded in for Bob Fosse hold-ups and slick drum and bass beats but otherwise little has changed at the New York Academy of Performing Arts.

Instead of ditzy Doris we have nervy workaholic Jenny (Kay Panabaker); streetwise dancer Leroy becomes rapper from the 'hood Malik (Collins Pennie) while sparky singer Coco is replaced by classical pianist turned hip hop diva Denise (Naturi Naughton) but the plot is basically the same. Kids aspire to perform for a living. Kids sweat, stress and dance in inappropriate locations. Kids graduate. The end.

Kherington Payne as Alice in FameAt first it's all a bit too X-Factor (minus the Geordie grieting): you don't want to waste too much interest on characters who aren't going to make it past the first audition stage – although you don't exactly need to be Simon Cowell to spot who'll get through. Spoiler alert: no-one who plays the tuba becomes a major character.

A bright cast of plausibly young unknowns (no Stockard Channings here) bust a gut to impress, but there are simply too many of them to make you care that much. The staff, on the other hand, are all too familiar, for it would appear that PA is where decommissioned comedy stars go to decay. Bebe Neuwirth and Kelsey Grammer  just about convince as the ballet mistress and music teacher, but who on earth thought of casting Will & Grace's helium-fuelled Karen as a singing teacher?!

The choreography is sizzling hot, and mostly confined to the stage performances (bar a musical interlude in the cafeteria so tiresomely energetic it makes these old bones feel very glad they never made it to stage school), but the songs are fairly unmemorable – it's only ever  the title track you'll come out singing.

Collins Pennie as Malik and Naturi Naughton as Denise in FameIn the end, this 21st century take on Fame is an enjoyable film, but I can't help thinking it falls between two stools: neither as exuberantly camp and ridiculous as the High School Musical franchise nor as gritty and absorbing as Alan Parker's 1978 original (Malik's sister was shot in a drive by and one failed dancer contemplates suicide for about half a minute: it makes Save the Last Dance look like Kids).

Plus, while the film does its responsible, po-faced best to counter the reality talent show instant fame and fortune trip with its insistence on, you know, hard work and sweat an' that, it doesn't really wash in the age of Pop Idol, X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent. We know fine well that any half-naked YouTube gurner can make a tidy sum if they catch the public's imagination. Sweat? Sweat's for losers.

But all that said, I was feeling pretty low last night, and Fame proved just the pick-me-up I needed. Now what did I do with that catsuit? Dang, it dissolved in all that sweat…

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