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Producer David De Silva expands the "Fame" franchise into a stage musical. And that's just the beginning ... 

A Claim to "Fame"

"I wanna live forever ... I wanna learn how to fly." If you were a teen-ager 20 years ago, you probably can't read these words without hearing Irene Cara's anxious voice singing them. You might even be able to picture exuberant students from the School of Performing Arts dancing on cars in the streets of New York, the most emblematic scene from the Oscar-winning movie, "Fame." If David De Silva has his way, a whole new generation will also be intimately familiar with the "Fame" theme song, thanks to the touring production of "Fame — The Musical," which comes to Richmond the first week of February. De Silva was the creative force behind the 1980 movie as well as the short-lived TV show which ran on NBC from 1982-83. The stage production is just another aspect of the "Fame" franchise which De Silva, now referred to as "Father Fame," presides over. Also in development: an interactive web site — FameNetwork.com — and a new documentary TV series. "'Fame' is really a global phenomenon now," De Silva says by phone from his office in Manhattan. "It's a piece of American culture that connects to people around the world." Regardless of the medium it's been presented in, the core of "Fame" has remained the same: a group of talented students arrive at New York's High School of Performing Arts (now the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts). During their four years at the school, they learn that talent alone won't bring them fame. They'll need discipline, education and a healthy work ethic if they hope to avoid the myriad pitfalls (drugs, eating disorders, bad hair, etc.) that lie in wait for the budding artist. And in the finest musical tradition, these lessons are dramatized via a dozen or so high-energy dance numbers. In these more cynical times, the simple story of "Fame" may seem a bit trite. De Silva disagrees: "It has a retro appeal now. I purposely kept the musical set in the early '80s. It was a time before AIDS awareness, before metal detectors in schools. It was a simpler time for high school kids and I like that innocence." He laughs, "I'm happy staying in the '80s. I'll let 'Rent' do the '90s." After the "Fame" TV series ended, De Silva began developing the show as a stage musical. Though an American production was mounted in 1989, it got bogged down in administrative and creative disagreements. But a 1992 Swedish production was a major hit, and soon the show's popularity was exploding overseas. "Now we have productions in Australia, the Netherlands, Japan ... a new tour begins in England next week," De Silva says. Foreign success bolstered interest in the United States and a domestic tour was mounted in 1998. The show is now booked through 2001. When asked why a show about New York high school students is so popular overseas, De Silva offers, "In some ways, 'Fame' is the American dream realized. We're promoting individuality and showing people being passionate about their art. A Japanese kid can be more passionate doing this show than most any other show he would do in his country." "Fame" isn't just a meal ticket for De Silva. He has turned the success of the show into an advocacy movement. "I'm interested in using 'Fame' to get kids involved," he says. "With arts education being cut from the curriculum in so many schools, we are bringing up a generation that is not as exposed to the arts as they should be." De Silva established the Father Fame Foundation that offers acting scholarships to the LaGuardia School. He also uses the musical to promote other performing arts schools around the country, schools such as the Duke Ellington School in Washington and the Governor's School in Norfolk. "The show is a way to connect teachers and artists with new students," explains De Silva. "With media being so accessible these days, more kids want to be involved than ever. But they are missing the one-on-one. We need to find more ways to bring the bodies together." The possibilities for bringing people together are what led De Silva to launch the new Internet arm of "Fame." "This is a truly inspirational entity for young people and young people are interested in cyberspace," he says. "Right now, I'm looking to find the right communications partner to take the energy of 'Fame' and make it really interactive." But even the online component of "Fame" will be about getting up and doing vs. sitting around and watching. According to De Silva, "The clear message will be that you should get away from your screen and go find a live event to get involved
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