'Father FAME' David De Silva on FAME FOREVER's Tennessee Journey
David De Silva, the man behind the creation of one of pop culture's most enduring tales of the individual's creative struggle for self-expression - known the world over as the film and stage musical, Fame - arrives in Tennessee today for the opening of Circle Players' regional premiere of Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal, which opens at Middle Tennessee State University's Tucker Theatre for a one-weekend run.
"I am thrilled to be going to Nashville to see this super talented company put on a show that's both entertaining and affordable. I am also very happy that it's in an education partnership with Middle Tennessee State University," he says.
Circle Players' regional premiere of the musical, which is a sequel to De Silva's Fame (which was staged in a critically acclaimed production mounted by the same creative collective that ushers Fame Forever to the stage this weekend), is the result of De Silva's own entreaties to the company - Middle Tennessee's oldest community theatre - that they include the newer show on its 2011-2012 season.
When Circle Players mounted the stage production of the popular movie and TV series FAME in the summer of 2009, the show was a big hit. The musical about a group of aspiring teenage artists at a competitive performing arts school in New York in the early 1980s resonated with Nashville area audiences and was performed in front of sell-out crowds.
At the time of Circle's initial success with Fame in 2009, Fame Forever was already in the works - conceived and developed by De Silva, with music by Steve Margoshes and book and lyrics by Ben H. Winter. De Silva let it be known that he wanted Circle to present Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal, again with director Tim Larson at the helm, even though another two years would pass before that wish became a reality.
Along with Larson, the show is produced by LaTonya Turner, with choreography by Kate Adams-Johnson and music direction by Ginger Newman.
As a native New Yorker, the story of the city's High School of Performing Arts (established in 1946) was one that had long resonated with De Silva, resulting in the 1980 film that launched the careers of many young actors and galvanized audiences with its depiction of the struggles of the students and the teachers depicted in the film.
"I was inspired by the Fame story as a native New Yorker, with a degree in history and education, always aware of the High School of Performing Arts," De Silva explains.
" As a magnet public school that kids from all over the city could audition for in dance, music or acting. Rich, poor, black or white - it's free. Great school to have in a democracy - especially if your parents couldn't afford to send you to a private school."
And, according to De Silva, it's also "a good idea for an a musical. Reasons to sing and dance and escape from your neighborhood and fall in love and have passion...passion...passion...for everything."
When Fame, the movie, premiered in 1980, it presented the story of a school unique in the annals of the American educational system. But since then, the idea has been copied throughout the United States.
"In 1980 when the film came out it was about a very unique school," he explains. "In the 30 years since then, every major city in the United States has a performing arts school.
"The pursuit of fame has affected every generation especially now in our media driven age. Since Fame, The Musical was published in 1990, kids around the world have been inspired by it and have come to identify with the characters in the show almost as a rite of passage. It's now being performed in every language and on every continent. Since 1995, it has opened in the West End of London seven times. In fact this year, Music Theatre International (MTI) is publishing Fame Jr. for middle school productions."
"And I thought that age group was solely reserved for Disney shows," De Silva laughs.
After seeing Circle's production of Fame, the Musical in 2009, De Silva was certain he could wait the two years until its sequel became part of the company's season.
"I saw the Circle Players in Nashville do Fame, the Musical in 2009 and I thought it was terrific. I liked the cress section of talent involved and the good ethnic mix involved," he says. "I guess Nashville has a lot a talent to draw on. I also liked the director Tim Larson, who is also a trained choreographer."
"I think Circle Players is one of the best amateur theatre groups in the country, because of its talent, the age range of everyone involved, because of the ethnic diversity, the quality of people and their commitment on all levels of a production."
Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal continues the story of the original musical's characters, now all grown - and their children - who are now students at New York's famed LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts, whose alumni are, among others, actor Al Pacino, Broadway performer Ben Vereen and actress Vanessa Williams.
The show's book is loosely based on the 1935 novella Forever by Mildred Cram. He liked the story's idea of a creative spirit that never dies and can be reborn without a memory. In Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal, Carmen (played by First Night's 2011 Most Promising Actor Faith Kelm), a troubled drug addict who dropped out of school and died of an overdose, gets a chance to see how her life influenced the lives of her classmates as they gather for their 20th high school reunion.
"I love the idea that life goes on, that nothing dies, everything just comes back in another form. After all, it's a big theme in science," De Silva says.
"[Mildred Cram's] story is about creative souls who move around in time from their metaphysical space to our physical plain and back again with faint memory of their past lives. I guess Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal is sort of a musical story of reincarnation like Alan Jay Lerner's On A Clear Day. Although the 'real' world in our story is set in New York City's LaGuardia High School, the Fame school between 2004 and 2014 and follows the lives of some of the alumni from the class of '84. So I guess we're a very contemporary musical play," De Silva suggests.
Compared to the original Fame, De Silva said, the sequel is much wiser, now that the characters have grown and changed. However, despite the changes and time passing, he thinks that what comes through in the story is that the big issues such as life and death are timeless."
De Silva was delighted when Steve Margoshes, the composer of the original Fame, came on-board for the sequel: "The music is quite romantic, that's the style of Steve Margoshes, and I am very romantic and emotional myself. There is such passion in his music. To me, there is no better composer around."
Since the big success of FAME, David De Silva has created the Father Fame Foundation, an organization with the mission to interactively promote theatre arts in education and in life, a mission, that he said dovetails perfectly with Circle Players' mission, as well with the production's status as an educational partnership with MTSU.
"I believe the future success of any show ultimately lies in its' attraction to community theatres and schools," he says. "That's what keeps a show living long after it's published or been received on Broadway.
"My goal for Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal is not Broadway with its $145 tickets and its ten-plus producers who have to raise a million dollars each and hope the critics like it enough so it can break even every week.
"It's very important to me that young people get to participate in the creative process, they need to get involved in every aspect of it."
But, De Silva maintains, it's not so much about encouraging someone to make a living in the arts, but rather, "I just believe that exposure to the arts will help you become a better human being, no matter what you do in life."
Fame Forever: Talent Springs Eternal runs Thursday through Sunday, July 21-24, at the Tucker Theatre on the MTSU campus, 1824 Blue Raider Drive, Murfreesboro. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors (60 and up.) Children 6 and under attend free. Group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased online at www.circleplayers.net or by phone (615) 332-7529. Individual tickets will be on sale at the box office at the Tucker Theatre one hour prior to each performance.