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‘Fame’ stays faithful, familiar

Christy Lemire Associated Press

The “reinvention” of the 1980 high school musical “Fame” – please, people, don’t call it a remake – stays faithful to the spirit and structure of Alan Parker’s original while sucking out all the raciness.

There’s no nudity in this PG-rated version, no one gets an abortion. No one even lights a single cigarette. So no, it’s not exactly the most realistic depiction of modern high-school life.

But at the same time, dancer/choreographer Kevin Tancharoen, making his feature directing debut, doesn’t turn “Fame” into the kind of slick, overly edited eye candy you might expect.

Starting with Debbie Allen’s famous “you got big dreams, you want fame” speech over the opening titles, “Fame” follows a group of aspiring singers, dancers, actors and musicians from their auditions for New York’s competitive High School of Performing Arts until their graduation four years later.

Among the familiar types are Denise (Naturi Naughton), a classically trained pianist who longs to branch out creatively; good-looking Marco (Asher Book), who sings like Justin Timberlake; aspiring actress Jenny (Kay Panabaker), who’s too self-conscious; the privileged dancer Alice (Kherington Payne); the shticky wannabe film director Neil (Paul Iacono); and the misunderstood actor-rapper Malik (Collins Pennie).

Among the faculty are Kelsey Grammer as the stern but fair piano teacher and Bebe Neuwirth, formidable as always, as a dance instructor. (Frasier and Lilith don’t have any scenes together, sadly.)

Megan Mullally plays a perky voice coach and Allen herself, in all of two scenes, appears as the school’s principal.

Naughton, who played Lil’ Kim in “Notorious,” sings the hell out of “Out Here on My Own,” the only song carried over from the original. (“Fame” plays over the closing credits.) And understandably, given Tancharoen’s background, the dance scenes dazzle.

Familiar? Yes, but not nearly as vapid as most of the musical material out there that encourages teens to believe fame is all that matters.

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