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Kids From Fame

Fame was a relatively low-budget film musical from 1980 directed by Alan Parker and written by Christopher Gore, following a group of students and their teachers, and their exploits and adventures at the New York High School of Performing Arts. The film starred Albert Hague (as Mr. Shorofsky, the music teacher), Jim Farrell (drama), Anne Meara (English), and Debbie Allen (as Lydia Grant, the main dance teacher and focal point of most of the auditions), with the students played by Maureen Teefy (as Doris Finsecker), Barry Miller (as Ralph Garcie, formally known as Raul Garcia until he tried to disguise his Puerto Rican roots), Irene Cara (Coco Hernandez), Gene Anthony Ray (Leroy Johnson), Lee Curreri (Bruno Martelli), and Paul McCrane (Montgomery MacNeil). Despite the film's success in the U.S., winning an Academy Award for Best Song (the title track sung by Irene Cara as Coco Hernandez), it was not well received in the U.K., the film only moderately successful and the soundtrack not even able to hit the Top 20.

However, right at the start of 1982, a new weekly television series began (still written by Christopher Gore), based on the original film and called The Kids from Fame, which again followed the adventures and personal lives of the same group of teachers and students, all attempting to become famous with a grounding at the stage school. All of the main characters were involved and many of the original actors and actresses were also retained to provide some continuity with their roles, Debbie Allen continuing to play the part of Lydia Grant, the dance teacher who introduced the show each week, summing up what the school was all about with the line "Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying -- in sweat," with Albert Hague as the crusty European music teacher Benjamin Shorofsky, although the other leading teacher, Miss Elizabeth Sherwood, was played by Carol Mayo Jenkins.

As for the students, the TV producers retained the best-loved characters of Leroy Johnson, the dance expert played by Gene Anthony Ray (even though he had received no formal dance training), and the musical genius Bruno Martelli, played by Lee Curreri. The name of the character Doris Finsecker was changed to Doris Schwartz, played by the actress and singer Valerie Landsburg; Montgomery MacNeil was now played by P.R. Paul; and Coco Hernandez -- one of the most memorable characters from the film since it was Irene Cara (who had now begun to forge a successful solo singing career) as Hernandez who sang the theme song -- was now played by Erica Gimpel. They also introduced a new student character with Danny Amatullo played by Carlo Imperato, who had an on/off love relationship with Doris throughout the series.

Almost immediately, the TV series took off as the film had never managed, and it became compulsive weekly viewing as the story lines were given a chance to delve much deeper into the personal lives and tragedies that befell just about all of the characters. During each episode -- more often than not at the climax of the show -- there would be a performance of song and dance by the students, sometimes organized but sometimes appearing totally spontaneous, and usually bringing tears to the eyes of either the parents or teachers, or guest stars who happened to be passing and found themselves involved with the school in some way. The only song retained from the original film was the Irene Cara hit "Fame," which was the most famous song and signature tune of the whole project, only this time it was sung by Erica Gimpel. At the end of June 1982, Irene Cara's version was re-released and shot to number one on the singles chart, the film soundtrack also being reissued -- and within four weeks it too sat on top of the album charts, although for the first week it had to share that honor with the final week at the top for ABC's Lexicon of Love, a rare occurrence of a joint number one on the album charts. It had the pole position to itself the following week, but a week later it succumbed to the even greater success of its own spinoff, The Kids from Fame.

It was inevitable that, due to the success of the show, there would be a cast recording, and by the summer, an album of original songs was ready for release, not even featuring the song "Fame" itself for copyright reasons. But after the release of the album, two memorable singles came out, the week after they had been sung on the show, "Hi Fidelity" featuring Valerie Landsburg as lead vocalist, and "Starmaker," on which they all took a line each. In the U.K. particularly, the album sales were phenomenal, the cast recording hitting number one at the beginning of August, remaining there for eight weeks, and returning for a further four weeks in November to end 1982 as the overall second-best seller. A second volume of songs titled The Kids from Fame Again was released and peaked at number two, giving the cast the top two albums during the last week in October and the first week in November.

Not satisfied with record sales and merchandising or even having made dancers' leg warmers a must-have fashion accessory for everyday wear, most of the cast became involved in a tour, performing the roles of the characters live on-stage, and the fans accepted the live gigs as if they were real people, not simply actors. The musical landscape changed quickly in the gap between April and October 1983 when the show was off the air, and by the time the show returned for a third series, the furor had already died down considerably and, despite three albums being released in 1983 (The Kids from Fame Live!, The Kids from Fame Songs, and The Kids from Fame Sing for You), the chart placings became progressively worse. When season four of the series began in 1984 it was all over, with most of the cast beginning to drift away to become involved with other projects and the producers beginning to introduce more and more new characters -- Carrie Hamilton as Reggie Higgins (seasons five and six), Billy Hufsey as Christopher Donlon (seasons three through six), Cynthia Gibb as Holly Laird (seasons three through five), and Nia Peeples as Nicole Chapman (seasons four through six) -- but none of the new characters fired the imagination of the fans as much as the originals, and the show limped on until season six in May 1987 when it was canceled, never to return. Fame really was made to live forever, however (as a line from the song states), as 25 years later the TV series was released on a series of DVDs. ~ Sharon Mawer
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