"Fame" remake rides money-spinning musicals wave
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A family-friendly remake of the 1980 movie "Fame" swings into theaters on Friday, riding a lucrative wave of song-and-dance shows on the big and small screen.
Aimed squarely at young girls, the 2009 version of New York performing arts high school students hoping to live their dreams is as squeaky-clean as director Alan Parker's original was gritty.
Updated with rap tunes and hip-hop choreography, the new version barely grazes issues of poverty, sexual exploitation and drugs that lay beneath the exuberance of "Fame" almost 30 years ago.
Instead, the remake seeks to tap into the money-spinning teen market blazed by Disney's $1 billion-plus "High School Musical" franchise, the worldwide "Idol" TV talent show franchise, and the feature adaptation of "Mamma Mia!" that was the fifth-biggest movie of 2008 with global ticket sales of $609 million.
"The musical is definitely back," said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst with Hollywood.com.
"There was a time when it was thought to be the kiss of death. 'Fame' has been completely re-tooled for the teen market and it is a very smart move."
First-time director Kevin Tancharoen, 25, said the current popularity of song-and-dance shows directly influenced the approach to the remake.
"We all made a conscious decision that we wanted to take the uplifting nature of the film and make people feel they were having a good time," said Tancharoen, a former choreographer for Britney Spears and Madonna.
"With all the spectacles out there, people are very interested in seeing dance. We wanted to give them that and also a glimpse of the hard work that goes into being a performing artist, as opposed to social issues," he said.
'OUT HERE ON MY OWN'
"Fame" has just two musical numbers from the original -- the title song and "Out Here on My Own" -- and six new songs.
Debbie Allen, who played tough dance teacher Lydia Grant in 1980, returns to the cast, while Kelsey Grammer of "Frasier" fame, Megan Mullally of "Will & Grace," Broadway star Bebe Neuwirth and Hollywood actor Charles S. Dutton round out the list of well-known faces playing teachers.
Dergarabedian said he expected "Fame" to earn about $15 million at this weekend's North American box office -- a modest sum compared to the $42 million opening haul for "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" in October 2008.
But "Fame" has a cast of mostly unknown youngsters and was made for about $20 million, which should turn a profit for closely held studio MGM when the movie rolls out worldwide.
Other movie musicals in the works in Hollywood include a remake of 1984's "Footloose," starring "Gossip Girl" teen heartthrob Chace Crawford, and a sequel to the 2007 movie version of "Hairspray."
On U.S. television, ABC's competition show "Dancing with the Stars" attracted 17.5 million viewers this week for its 9th season opener, while Fox's acclaimed new comedy "Glee" -- a quirky take on musical theater geeks -- became the first new TV show of the season to be picked up for a full 22 episodes.
"Glee" costs a reported $3 million per episode to produce, much of it on acquiring musical rights. But with an iTunes hook-up, an album coming in November, and licensing agreements already with Australia, the Philippines and Canada, Fox believes it is in tune with the public mood.
"Our show is no different (financially) from any other first-year Fox show. The difference is that instead of smashing cars and blowing up buildings, we're singing songs and dancing," said "Glee" Executive Producer Dante DiLoreto.
"I think the whole world's a better place if there is more singing and dancing."