"Fame" Inspires, Puts Community Onstage



Fame—The Musical hits the stage at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center tonight for the first of two productions of this upbeat and inspiring tale of aspiring artists and starry-eyed students trying to make their dreams come true. Directed by international stage and opera director Dom Ruggiero, whose production of Phantom won wide acclaim across the US as his Italian production of West Side Story did in that country, the performances feature local Sarasota high schoolers in walk-on roles amidst the professional cast.

Inspired by the Academy Award-winning 1980 film, Fame, the musical continues that story with the next generation of young artists at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, where life, academics and performance collide. Fighting for their dreams, the students clash and commiserate in equal proportions as the path to stardom sometimes leads to rocky and unfortunate episodes. It’s something Ruggiero remembers identifying with when he first saw the film in 1980, a young artist himself. “Fame has always been a special memory for me,” he says, and so jumped at the opportunity to direct.

“It’s all about living your dream—making it happen and not giving up,” says Ruggiero, and although not everything that happens in the story is strictly uplifting, the overall feel and the energy around the show and with his young cast certainly is. “They’re so excited to do the show that it was just a joy for me to work with these kids,” he says. “It’s reminding me of why I got into the business, because you forget that as you get older, as it becomes more of a job.”

Part of the youthful energy is undoubtedly due to some of the cast’s local additions—a handful of high schoolers from Sarasota High School and Northport High School stepping in for cameos in crucial scenes to fill out the cast. They won’t be delivering monologues or singing solos, but they do get to be part of the show and garner early experience. “They get to be backstage and see how a show happens, how it works and all the effort that goes into making the performance happen,” says Ruggiero, and the production benefits as well. “The story is very real with these kids in the show—students going through the same emotions as the kids in the show.”

But though the story centers on the difficulties of young artists, Ruggiero remains confident that the central message can resonate with any audience. “They’ll see the joy and hard work it takes to do what you love to do as a profession,” he says. “Hopefully, it’ll remind everybody what our dreams and ambitions were or still are and that we should never give up on them.

Because if you give up, what kind of life would that be?”

Fame—The Musical hits the Van Wezel stage tonight at 7pm with another production the following night at the same time.

Pictured: The cast of "Fame." Photo courtesy of the Van Wezel.

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