The new crop of performing arts students are cute, and a couple seem poised for Disney flicks, primetime teen soaps, or musical careers, but it's hard to really care about any of them. After seeing the updated Fame, anyone old enough to remember (remember... remember...) the original will want to listen to Irene Cara's rendition of the theme song and wax nostalgic about how that high-school musical became a cultural touchstone of the early 1980s. Sure, the 2009 version has the same premise, an equally diverse cast of newcomers, and even a supporting role by Debbie Allen -- whose famous quote from the first movie -- "You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying, in sweat" -- is played over the opening credits. The problem is, unlike the original cast of memorable misfits and prodigies, the new generation of performing students is quite bland.
As the school's teachers, the always-excellent Kelsey Grammer (music), Bebe Neuwirth (dance), Megan Mullally (musical theater), and Charles S. Dutton (drama) are all much, much more interesting than any of the students. You almost starts hoping for an extended sequence in the faculty lounge, a la Glee. Parents and Gen-Xers hoping to hear the songs from the original film will be mostly disappointed (sorry, no "I Sing the Body Electric"), although Naughton does a lovely job with "Out Here On My Own," and Book capably delivers short covers of "Ordinary People" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." But despite a few entertaining numbers, it's hard to believe that this Fame will have anything close to the cultural impact on teens that the original did in the age of leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts.