David De Silva is known as "Father Fame," but he might have been called "Father Hot Lunch" or "Father Neon Dreams."
"Hot Lunch" and "Neon Dreams" were preliminary titles for the 1980 movie "Fame," which De Silva conceived and produced.
"Hot Lunch" is still his favorite title. But it was nixed after MGM, which made "Fame," discovered there was a pornographic movie titled "Hot Lunch."
"Neon Dreams," on the other hand, might have sounded a bit dated by now. And De Silva, who is also the originating force behind the stage version of "Fame" -- which opens a one-week run at the Lyric Opera House on March 23 -- is living proof that "Fame" remains topical.
Baltimoreans may recall that the stage musical has been here before. In 1989, it played the Mechanic Theatre as part of what was supposed to be a pre-Broadway tour. But despite the popularity of "Fame" as both a movie and subsequent TV series, the production folded after a six-week run in Philadelphia.
"It didn't make the jump to Broadway for many reasons," De Silva explained last week from New York. "We were not star-driven. It was not about special effects."
However, "Fame -- The Musical" has proved a sturdy international vehicle. There are currently productions in Argentina, Hungary and Poland. A German production opens this spring, an Australian production in July, and every summer, "Fame" tours Japan.
The production coming to Baltimore launched its tour in Toronto in November and is booked into the year 2001. In Toronto, the company cut a cast album, which is scheduled to be released the day of the show's Baltimore opening. There are already albums in Polish, Spanish and Swedish, as well as a cast album made in Britain, where the show has played the West End three times.
De Silva says the North American touring production is a reworked version of the one that was here earlier. Spanning the years 1980-1984, the plot still follows a group of students at New York's High School of the Performing Arts, before the school moved to Lincoln Center.
This time around, he says, "I think it's gotten smarter and tighter. We've been able to balance the comedy and drama in a strong way." There's also a new song, "Mabel's Prayer," which was added in London, and a new director/choreographer, Lars Bethke, who was the original choreographer of the Swedish and British productions.
As for Father Fame, he's managed to make the show his full-time job for two decades. His chief current project is the Father Fame Foundation. The foundation's goal is to produce the show in New York City every August, beginning in 2000, and featuring 100 students from city schools. Proceeds would go to arts education in public schools.
Eventually, he'd like to try the same thing in other cities. "I really want to devote myself to promoting arts and education and using `Fame' to do it," he says.
Show times at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 23-28. Tickets are $21-$49. Call 410-481-7328.
`A troubled production'
The 11th-hour personnel problems that beset Everyman Theatre's current production of "The Price" are not without precedent. As the play's author, Arthur Miller, recounts in his autobiography, "Timebends," the original 1968 production faced similar difficulties.
"It was a troubled production, and rehearsal threatened to disintegrate one afternoon when Arthur Kennedy, Kate Reid, and Pat Hingle -- three-quarters of the cast -- got into an angry argument with the director, Ulu Grosbard," Miller writes.
When the show tried out in Philadelphia, Miller took over the direction. Then 48 hours before the Broadway opening, the fourth cast member, David Burns, was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.
At Everyman, the situation was a little less dire. J. M. McDonough, who was cast in the play's largest role, that of police officer Victor Franz, left the production over "artistic differences" after the dress rehearsal. The show's director, Grover Gardner, weighed his options overnight, then stepped into the role.
"We considered finding someone else, but the more we thought about it, first of all, there was the availability issue, but I think that a lot of it was out of consideration for the other actors. They knew I would do the role the way they were used to," Gardner says.
Although Gardner is a long-time member of the acting company of Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theater, he has spent the last half-dozen years directing, doing voice-overs and recording books on tape. When he suddenly found himself back on stage, he says, "I was surprised at how easily I was able to pick it up again."
Even so, he performed with script in hand for the first weekend. Vincent Lancisi, artistic director at Everyman, considered postponing the opening, but says, "I had a lot of faith in Grover."