Nearly 30 years ago, award-winning choreographer, author, playwright, director and actress Debbie Allen set the price for pride and glory on the television adaptation of the 1980 film “Fame.” And America counted up the cost—sweat, tears and shaking your groove thang—and happily paid the price by tuning in each week for a sneak peek into the lives of aspiring actors, singers, dancers and artists from auditions to graduation at New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts. This September, Lakeshore and MGM will introduce a new generation to the 1982 series that had us all wanting to dance with the stars.
“I’m really happy that it’s happening because it’s in its own time; with the huge success of “High School Musical,” doing this film is a no-brainer,” Allen told ESSENCE.com. Allen served as the lead choreographer for the original film and series and won two Emmys and one Golden Globe. “Ten years ago they discussed doing this film, and a few years after that, but it never happened, and now it is, so that’s great!”
Although the production, helmed by director Kevin Tancharoen has been classified as a remake, don’t expect to see cameos from any members of the original crew or even characters with the same name. Even Allen who starred as the no-nonsense dance teacher Lydia Grant in the original series will return in a new role as the school principal Ms. Simms and will appear in a few scenes. But Allen doesn’t mind at all because the focus was always the students. “Honestly, the only reason Lydia Grant was seen as much as she was on the series is because I could out dance everybody,” Allen laughs. “I never tried to but it just happened that way.”
The faculty for the performing arts high school will include heavy hitters Charles S. Dutton, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama will play an acting coach; Kelsey Grammer, who attended Juilliard will serve as an orchestra-maestro-turned-music instructor; Megan Mullaly, a graduate of the American Ballet, will portray a voice instructor; and Tony Award winner Bebe Neuwirth, will play a dance teacher. Allen who costarred with Neuwirth in a production of Sweet Charity offered the actress her first television gig on the series as a ballet teacher. None of the students will bust a move without the guidance and artistic direction of Emmy award-winning choreographer Magarite Derricks, a “Fame” alum who once danced alongside of Allen on the series and was affectionately dubbed “White Lightening” for her impeccable dance skill and technique.
“I believe the show helped with the building of a lot more performing arts schools including the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City,” admits Allen, who spearheaded the 2003 “Fame” reality show. “So many people loved the show that when they met me they always asked where is your school I want to send my kids there.”