In the opening scene of "Fame -- The Musical," a teacher warns the incoming freshmen at New York's High School of Performing Arts that if they think they're going to live forever or dance on cars, they're humming the wrong tune.
But the musical's creators are smart enough to know that fans of the movie would feel cheated without these scenes. So before the lively production at the Lyric Opera House is over, the cast has sung the Academy Award-winning title song (with the lyric about living forever). And a student has danced on a car -- though you have to stick around for the curtain call to see that trademark image.
This is the second time the musical adaptation of the 1980 movie has passed through Baltimore, and it has gained considerably more spunk and exuberance thanks to Lars Bethke's new direction and choreography.
With its gifted young cast, "Fame" is the kind of touring production that brings audiences to their feet and lets them leave the theater whistling the catchy melodies (Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore's title song is augmented by 14 songs by Steve Margoshes and Jacques Levy).
Jose Fernandez's book skips the audition process but adheres to the rest of movie's basic structure, following a class of students through all four years at the High School of Performing Arts.
Most of the characters are also recognizable from the movie and subsequent television series. And most are stock types -- the Hispanic acting student who'd rather be a stand-up comedian (Jose Restrepo); the rich, WASP-y ballerina (Nadine Isenegger); the black dancer from Harlem with an attitude problem (Dwayne Chattman); the gifted Jewish musician (Carl Tramon); the spitfire Hispanic dancer who wants too much too fast (Natasha Rennalls); the timid Jewish drama student (Jennifer Gambatese) and the sexually confused fellow student she falls in love with (Gavin Creel).
Considering the stereotypes, it's not surprising that the script has its trite moments, typified by a scene in which Gambatese explodes at Creel, then almost immediately reminds herself to remember the emotion and use it in her acting.
There's one new song, added during a Lon- don run. "Mabel's Prayer" is a comic gospel number belted with pizazz by Dioni Michelle Collins as an overweight dancer praying for willpower. Also effective is "The Teachers' Argument," given a powerful rendition by Kim Cea and Regina Le Vert as two feuding teachers.
Standouts in the mostly strong ensemble cast include Rennalls, who is compelling whether she's leading the cast in the title song or singing the similarly catchy "Bring On Tomorrow," and Chattman, an athletic dancer whose range extends from break-dancing to near-gymnastics to ballet.
"Fame -- The Musical" has never made it to New York, though it's been a hit overseas. As a touring show, it has the advantages of familiarity and not requiring a star (as well as the mixed blessing of a manipulative plot). This particular rendition also benefits from slick direction and a likable, talented cast whose high energy level sails over the footlights.
`Fame -- The Musical'
Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.
When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow; 7 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Call: 410-481-7328 Pub Date: 3/26/99