Fame is a stage musical based on the 1980 musical film of the same name. The musical premiered in 1988 in Miami, Florida.
De Silva had produced the 1980 film about students at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts. The critically and commercially successful film was followed by a six-season television series, and the musical. The musical is significantly rewritten from the previous adaptations, with an almost entirely new score. The film is referred to several times in the script and in two songs.
It tells the story of several students who attend the High School of Performing Arts, among them fame-obsessed Carmen, ambitious actress Serena, wisecracking comedian/bad boy Joe, quiet violinist Schlomo, “talented but dyslexic” dancer Tyrone, determined actor Nick, overweight dancer Mabel, and poor dancer Iris.
Since its first production, Fame – The Musical has had hundreds of professional and amateur productions in every major language.
- Act I
A group of vibrant, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, energetic young people gather to audition to study at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts. Miss Sherman, the homeroom teacher, warns the freshman class that it takes a lot more than dreams to succeed at “P.A.” The students acknowledge that it takes (“Hard Work”). Before Algebra class, Serena meets Nick Piazza, he explains his passion for the performing arts and tells her he wants his acting to move people emotionally (“I Want to Make Magic”). Mr. Myers, the drama teacher, asks them to think about how a physical sensation can trigger an emotional response. Joe discusses the physical reactions that happen whenever he thinks of a beautiful girl (Carmen) in dance class (“Can’t Keep it Down” or the alternative lyrics, “Can’t Keep It Cool”). Tyrone, feeling that Joe is childish, confronts him and they start to build a friendship. Tyrone talks to Joe about how they live in a not so different world. They compare and contrast their lives in a duet (“What About Me”). Meanwhile, in dance class Tyrone can’t get to grips with Ballet and states that he can do better, resulting in the whole class doing a hip hop dance. This makes Miss Bell see Tyrone’s potential as a choreographer, so she partners him with Iris, a ballerina. Iris mocks Tyrone’s lack of classical dance experience. Enraged at her comments, he begins a rap expressing his anger (“Tyrone’s Rap”). Iris apologizes and confesses that she is not really rich, but scared and they share a kiss.
At lunch, Carmen, a self-assured, cocky Latina spitfire, asks Mr. Myers if she can skip class on Friday to audition for West Side Story. He tells her that it would just be another role for her to hide behind. Carmen, enraged, dreams of seeing her name in lights and people gasping as she walks down the street (“There She Goes/Fame”). The other students join in her fantasy and begin an exciting, electrifying dance. Joe leaning up against a wall, coke in hand, grabs a little kid and asks him who she is. He thinks he will get her.
Serena and Nick are rehearsing another scene and Serena confesses that she wants to try something romantic and passionate. Serena is in love with Nick, but Nick is mainly focused on acting. Serena laments her unrequited love (“Let’s Play a Love Scene”). Afterwards, Carmen interrupts Schlomo while he practices his violin, giving him lyrics that she wrote for the melody he always plays. Schlomo tries them out, and changes some of the lyrics with Carmen, which results in Carmen joining the band. Carmen kisses Schlomo and leaves. Goody (also in the band, along with Lambchops) makes fun of Schlomo afterwards. Joe is watching and talks to Carmen. At first, she thinks he is annoying and mean, but charms her. She compares him to Marlon Brando (“Think of Brando”). At lunch, Carmen and the other students daydream of seeing their names in lights. Schlomo sings a song he wrote which excites the entire student body (“Bring on Tomorrow”). In the hallway, Miss Sherman talks to Tyrone about his care-free attitude towards education. She threatens to keep him out of the Fall Festival if his grades don’t improve. Miss Bell overhears and argues that Tyrone’s artistic endeavors are more important than his academic performance (“The Teachers’ Argument”). Tyrone threatens to drop out of school. Joe sees Tyrone and tries to cheer him up. They hug and Tyrone bumps Joe’s arm and Joe yelps in pain. Tyrone lifts his sweater sleeve and sees a big gash on his arm. Tyrone asks him what that is ; Joe gets defensive and leaves.
- Act II
The students begin their junior year with the P.A. Fall Festival (“I Want to Make Magic”).
At a dance rehearsal, Mabel, an overweight dancer, complains about retaining water, and other problems she faces with the size of her body. She confesses that, although she tries many weight-loss schemes and diets, she always goes back to the “Seafood Diet: I see food, and then I eat it!” She prays aloud for God’s help in keeping her from becoming “the world’s fattest dancer” (“Mabel’s Prayer”), eventually having an epiphany and deciding to switch her major to acting. Later, Nick congratulates Serena for getting the lead female role of Juliet in their junior show, Romeo and Juliet. Serena gets excited and assumes that Nick got the role of Romeo. However, she is surprised to learn that Joe Vegas has the role of Romeo and Nick got the part of Mercutio. Joe runs up and starts yelling. He sits down on the floor and starts to light a cigarette. She sees him and yells at him for being unprofessional. He gets up and sings a song about her being mad about not being with Nick (“Poor wittle’ Serena”). Serena says that he is jealous that he doesn’t have Carmen. Furious he punches a locker and breaks his hand. Lambchops suggests that Nick is gay, and when Serena confronts him about it, Nick angrily replies that he is straight. Serena is so angry she decides to channel it into her acting (“Think of Meryl Streep”). Carmen tells Schlomo of her plan to leave school and go to Los Angeles. She has met a Hollywood agent named Elliot Greene, who is sending her a plane ticket. Schlomo begs her not to go. He had seen her getting into Elliot’s limousine and accuses her of using cocaine with him. Schlomo tells Carmen he loves her, but is left alone with his violin/flute/keyboard (depending on what the actor can actually play). Joe smoking a cigarette outside says hi to Carmen. Angry tells him he’s a loser and to back off. Joe, unable to show his feelings grabs her and slaps her. She hits him, he grabs her, and kisses her. After a while of kissing she decides she can’t be with him either. She pushes him, slaps him again, and leaves. He takes out another cigarette, light a match off his boot, lights the cigarette, and puts his hand over the match.
In English class, Tyrone is reading a Superman comic book. Miss Sherman catches him, and forces him to stand up in front of the class and read from the comic book. He accuses her of trying to make him look stupid. He then accuses her of racism. Miss Sherman slaps him in the face and, shocked by what she has done, runs off. Tyrone says to his classmates he doesn’t need her help, or the ability to read or write – he is a dancer, and that’s all he needs (“Dancin’ on the Sidewalk.”). Confronting his pain and frustration, Tyrone goes to the blackboard, writes “I WILL READ,” and runs off. Miss Sherman enters, sees what he has written, and is deeply touched. (“These Are My Children.”)
The students rehearse Romeo and Juliet. Joe, insecure playing Romeo, has been ad-libbing. Joe starts to make fun of what he is saying, although is scared he’ll mess up. Serena pleads with him to be serious in the part. Nick offers to show him how to play Romeo and winds up kissing Serena in their first romantic moment. Joe furious at Nick yells at him and throws classroom items. Mr. Myers takes Joe out to the hallway. They have a heart to heart moment about trying your best and not caring what other people think. Joe begins to sob and hugs Mr. Myers. Tyrone asks Iris why she has been avoiding him all year. She says she doesn’t want to be tied to a loser. To show her that he is serious, he tells her he is repeating his senior year and reads a passage of Leaves of Grass to her. They dance a pas de deux and walk off together, hand in hand.
A few of the teachers confront Miss Bell about influencing a summer school teacher to pass Tyrone. They insist he must repeat the year. The “Dance Theater of Harlem” is ready to take him, but he must repeat the year. Miss Bell finally admits she may be losing her perspective and decides to take a break. Carmen is standing in front of the school looking physically wasted and disoriented. She spots Schlomo and tells him the truth about her experiences in Hollywood (“In L.A.”). Carmen promises him that she will quit the drugs and get her GED. He gives her a couple of dollars and sadly departs.
At the farewell party, everyone is dressed up and the celebration is loud and festive. Nick confesses his feelings to Serena and they decided to try to date although they are heading to different colleges (“Let’s Play a Love Scene” (Reprise)). On the day of the graduation ceremony, Schlomo takes Joe to the locker rooms and breaks it to him that Carmen has overdosed. Joe finds out that Schlomo let her go to LA and they begin to fight. Then Joe admits that, in fact, he was in love with her. Schlomo, shocked, cheers him up and they sing a duet, (“Bring On Tomorrow”) in her memory.
After the bows, Carmen comes back dancing on the roof of a taxi cab and sings “Fame” with Schlomo and Joe for the Finale. The students are all heading off in their respective directions, excited about the future.