#124 Fame: The Musical (feat. Brendon Henderson)

The original post for this episode can now be found here.

Transcriptions by: Masha Latvinava

Fame: The Musical – Episode #124 – January 14, 2021

JESS: Hidey-ho, Musicals with Cheese fans. I'm here for a small disclaimer. There were some audio issues that we had with this episode. And by we, I mean Brendon, our guest of Wait in the Wings. As soon as we were done recording, his entire audio software just exploded out on him, deleting his entire audio. And since we couldn't recreate the magic that was on this episode, unfortunately, we're gonna have to use the StreamYard recording which is a mixed down file, so Bree is unable to edit individual audio tracks here. So, if the sound is a little distracting to you, you can go yell at Brendon. His Twitter is at @waitwings. Really. You can just go yell at him. Even if it's not that bothering to you. You can yell at him anyway. You know? Just about Beetlejuice or some shit. What I'm telling you now is mob justice all the way over to Wait in the Wings on Twitter and just yell at him. But despite the audio, this is a wonderful episode with a lot of laughs and you're gonna have a great time. You will immediately understand why we didn't just rerecord because this was such magic lightning in a bottle that we couldn't recreate. So, enjoy the episode, kids.

(Theme music)

JESS: Hello, I'm Jesse McAnally.

ANDREW: And I am Andrew DeWolf.

BRIANNA: And I'm Brianna Jones.

JESS: And welcome to Musicals with Cheese, a podcast where I try to get Andrew and Bree to like musical theater, and today we have a very okay guest. One of the okay-est, in fact.

ANDREW: It's actually just Jess but from the Dark Dimension.

JESS: Yes, it is my evil twin. He is the host of Wait in the Wings and maybe my arch nemesis or best friend and/or clone from a Dark Dimension - Brendon Henderson. Yay.


JESS: Studio audience applause. But throw a couple boos in there too, Bree. You gotta mix it.

BRENDON: Boo. I'll give them to you. Boo. Make your videos shorter. Stop using star metaphors. Boo.

JESS: Star metaphors?

BRENDON: Yeah, that's the Beetlejuice one. That's what everyone says in the comments every day. Or it was the Rewriting Seussical video and this lady - her name was Dorothy - and she just wrote “Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty called and they're too busy with their Broadway millions to give a shit about your stupid opinion.”

ANDREW: They’re rich. You’re not.

JESS: I wanna send that to Ben Brentley one day. “They're too rich to care about your stupid opinions.”

BRENDON: I was like, “This is the first video where I put my face on it and then they were mean.” And I’m like, “I’m not doing this anymore.”

JESS: You have a beautiful, beautiful face. It's like looking in a handsome mirror.

BRENDON: It's a face made for podcasting. Let's put it that way. That's –

JESS: You look wonderful. Shut the fuck up. But you are the reason why I had to watch Fame. So I am angry at you.

BRENDON: I did no such thing. You messaged me and said, “Hey, do you want to come on and talk about Fame?”

JESS: You’re right, shit. You're right. You're right. This is a Patreon request.

ANDREW: This is where we get to shit on the people that give us money.

JESS: Yes, yes. And this guy - this motherfucker –

ANDREW: Piece of shit.

JESS: No, no, no. It's Joseph Evans Green, who has also made us watch We Will Rock You? Like –

ANDREW: This guy absolutely hates us. He is the worst person in our patrons and we love him. Please give us more money.

BRENDON: It was probably - I'd say it's got the second best song about an erection in musical theater history.

JESS: Third. All right, this is Fame. Cue the music, Bree.

(Fame plays)

JESS: Fame is a musical with music by Steve Margoshes. And lyrics by Jacques Levy and a book by José Fernandez, based on the 1980 film musical of the same name. The musical premiered in 1988 in Miami, Florida - because all great things come from Miami, Florida. It performed Off-Broadway at the Little Shubert Theater on 42nd Street from 2003 to 2004. It ran for, you know, whatever performances and never hit Broadway, so - But since its first production, Fame the musical has had hundreds of professional and amateur productions in every major language. So, this is a very well-performed show –

ANDREW: Prolific.

JESS: I guess.

BRENDON: It's a high school production. That's how I felt watching the London thing – it’s like, “This is a really good high school show.”

JESS: But it tells the story of several students who attend the school, among them fame-obsessed Carmen, ambitious actress Serena, wisecracking comedian/bad boy Joe, quiet violinist Schlomo, "talented but dyslexic" dancer Tyrone, determined actor Nick, overweight dancer Mabel, and a serious dancer, Iris, from a poor family.

ANDREW: They were characters in this?

BRENDON: I forgot they had names. I just referred to them as - Who was like, “I want to be Stanislavski”? He was in a peanut butter commercial, so I just wrote him down in my notes – Peanut Butter. I wrote down his love interest as discount Miranda Sings.

JESS: So, Brendon - You have a history with Fame. You know about the move and all the adaptations and what came about it? How did this stand up to what you knew about Fame and your connection to Fame?

BRENDON: Are you serious? So, I try to - I told you this last night, I always try to give shows the benefit of the doubt, and I try to find the positives. You can't do it with this show.

ANDREW: Oh, no.

BRENDON: It's literally nothing. I can't find anything redeemable about this show. Maybe, uh, the dancing school?

ANDREW: Is it? I don't - I feel like the dancing, going to the dancing, is the last refuge.

BRENDON: You know with when they were putting on Cats? And they're like, “Oh, god, we have to find dancers who can act and sing.” That's kind of like what I felt Fame was trying to do. But they could only find people who could dance.

JESS: Let's put that on the poster, Brendon.

ANDREW: You know, Cats is an interesting one to go to. That's another show I'd say, “Yeah, the dancing was good.”

JESS: There certainly was Cats, yeah, there certainly was people that wanted to be famous. This show bothers me in 900 different ways is the thing. It has a very anti-intellectual belief. It doesn't believe in higher education in any way whatsoever.

ANDREW: It doesn't believe in arts either. To be honest.


BRENDON: Give me your money. We're gonna sing that one song that you hear on the station. And then you can leave after 40 minutes.

ANDREW: They give us -

JESS: - an intermission.

ANDREW: They give us two numbers back to back where one of them is “Mozart is bad because your teacher likes Mozart, right? Like, rock music's way cooler. So, like, Mozart bad.” And then the next one is, “Ballet is bad, because you know, hip hop is cooler. Like, sick.”

JESS: “Reading bad because you dance.”

ANDREW: Yeah, “Reading bad, could dance.”

BRENDON: That’s what doesn’t make sense, is later on in the show, when he's reading the Superman comic, and the teacher says, “Hey, you think you're so smart? Read that for me.” But it's like, you know that he can't read, you dick.

ANDREW: Also, isn't this like - maybe I'm wrong - I was under the impression this is some sort of specialty high school? Like, wouldn't there be an entrance exam?

BRENDON: Well, it's based off of an actual school. it's called High School of Performing Arts in New York. So, what's interesting about it is that it's a public school, but you get different people from all walks of life who can come audition to be a part of this. I'm spacing on –

ANDREW: I would assume part of the entrance exam and the audition process, though, would be, “Can you read?”

BRENDON: It's mainly just auditioning. But you know, like, if you're gonna do - I don't know. It would have been nice if they'd actually shown the auditions so we can figure out how they got in here.

ANDREW: I don't know. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being dyslexic or being illiterate. If that's your background, you know, that's whatever, you know. You can work through that. The teacher doesn't attempt to help him though, she's just antagonistic. She's just like, “You're illiterate? You shouldn't be allowed to be a dancer because you're illiterate. What are you gonna do? Mop floors?” Like, jeez.

BRENDON: “And now let me sing a song about how much I love my students.”

ANDREW: Yeah, “I love my students, except for the ones that can't read.”

BRENDON: “Sorry, sorry, Tyrone. I didn't know.” Like, you fucking did.

JESS: Yeah, you're the only one that knew. My favorite is the duet between that teacher and the dance teacher, like, “Give him a chance.” She's like, “I'm not giving him no chances.”

BRENDON: And it’s like, where did that even come from?

ANDREW: Aren't you a teacher? Shouldn't your whole goal be to teach him how to read? You're an English teacher. That's your job.

JESS: If he can't read, kind of that's on you.

BRENDON: And this is another problem - is, as you mentioned that whole song where the teachers are dueting. It's what has happened before that makes me think, “Okay, this makes sense that this teacher is standing up for him.” Every big decision - No, every decision in this show is unconnected and unmotivated in any way. I wrote a list down of different things that are just thrown in for the shit of throwing it in because they're like, “Hey, this makes sense.” Let's see –

JESS: I want to apologize, first and foremost, to Jagged Little Pill for calling that a PSA. My God, I didn't know.

BRENDON: It's like, here we go: Rich girl. Oh, she's not rich. Where did that come from? Literally the second time that you see Peanut Butter and Miranda Sings on stage, they're like, “Hey, I love you.” Random cheating. And this is like, this rich girl has been carrying you the whole way through. Where was that established? Nothing connects. It's just thrown just for the sake of throwing it in in.

ANDREW: And like, this is the type of thing where at the end, you would look back and you're like, “Oh, okay. The moral of the story, you know, this is for kids. Like, you know, here's the moral.” What is the moral here? Like, don't do drugs?

BRENDON: Yeah. Don't move to California -

ANDREW: - and do drugs. Yeah, that's the moral is don’t move to California.

JESS: Maybe fame is bad is the only thing I got.

ANDREW: I mean, Fame is bad. I don't know about fame. But Fame, the show - pretty bad.

BRENDON: The musical is so bad.

JESS: You know what? Stick to the 2009 movie of the same name, because that is significantly better.

BRENDON: It's sad cus it's true. At least that one had some pretty nice cinematography.

JESS: Yep. Yep. I didn't think we could get worse than the 2009 movie to be honest.

BRENDON: And neither did I.

JESS: Here we are. But I want Andrew to try to describe the plot of this musical really quickly for me.

ANDREW: Yeah, sure.

JESS: Good luck.

ANDREW: There's a bunch of different students – like, too many, like, far too many. And they all have different things going on. And they have different love interests. There's a rock band that's trying to get started, but the teacher doesn't like them because he wants them to play classical music. And that kind of doesn't go anywhere. So nevermind, we'll cut that one out. Then there's the dancer. The dancer who can't he can't read. And that, well, that gets resolved by, you know, I think he learns how to read? I think?

JESS: Does he learn how to read? Did that happen? He was trying to.

BRENDON: He just says, “Hey, screw you. I can dance,” and then they do a big dance number.

ANDREW: He's later seen with a book though. You know, reports say that there was a book in his hands at some point.

JESS: “Reports say.”

ANDREW: There's the rich girl who isn't rich, but people think she's rich. And that doesn't ever come into play again ever. Not even one time.

JESS: Don't forget fat girl. Who isn’t fat at all.

ANDREW: I didn't even remember that this was a thing. But yeah, I guess there's a fat girl, too, who isn't fat.

JESS: “Fat” - big quotation. She's like a size two.

ANDREW: “Guys, it's body positivity. So, you could be really positive about your body if it's not what you say it is. That's body positivity 101. Just say you're fat and not be fat, right? There you go. Look, we did it. Representation in our show.”

JESS: But we got to talk about drug girl, Carmen.

ANDREW: The all-important one. Yeah, she is part of the rock band, kind of. And then she isn't because she moves to LA and then she dies. The end. Spoilers: she dies.

BRENDON: Off-screen.

JESS: Off-screen.

BRENDON: We’re like, “Hey, maybe she’s gonna get her life together,” and then the next scene it's literally like –

JESS: She died of overdose.

ANDREW: She’s dead of overdose. We’re ending the show with her funeral.

JESS: No, with the graduation. And she's like, “We’re gonna dedicate this to Carmen, who died off-screen.”

BRENDON: “I love you!”

JESS: Carmen had to go back to her home planet and died.

ANDREW: There's one more character. There's the - as it says here in our plot synopsis – wisecracking comedian/badboy who wants to be an actor but doesn't want to be Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, which seems like something an actor would want to do. But I guess not.

JESS: What about the girl that wants to sexually assault a guy and then he slowly gets worn down and decides, “You know what? I'll settle for you.”

ANDREW: Oh, yeah, yeah, the one - And she gets like super super angry at him because he might be gay and it's like the most –

JESS: “How dare you be gay.”

BRENDON: And then she sings a whole song about like, “Here, I want to be Meryl Streep. Like, I'm in the right here.”

ANDREW: Yeah, Meryl Streep. Literally the chorus of the song is just she says Meryl Streep. That's the big –

BRENDON: I think Meryl Streep is the name of the song. Cus I was like, “What song is this?”

ANDREW: Oh my god. It’s so bad.

JESS: So, we love the show, is what we’re saying.

ANDREW: Yeah, we love the show. It's very coherent. And it makes a lot of sense.

BRENDON: You have to realize this is a month’s worth of frustration that's just been pent up. And it just got restated last night, when I -

ANDREW: The thing with the plot too is they skip everything important happening. Like, there's the rock band that wants to become, you know, a thing. And then they just kind of skip two years and the next we know they have a manager and they're a thing. And it's like, “Wow, I guess we could have seen that, but I guess not.” You know? Like they just have –

BRENDON: This musical is the equivalent – like, the stage musical version of The Room, where they just introduce seven different stories and then it goes nowhere. It's like, “Hey, I got the results of the test back. It’s definitely dyslexia.”

JESS: They’re curing people every day, Tyrone.

ANDREW: Oh my god. Yeah, Nope. Nothing goes anywhere. There's so many plotlines. Can we streamline this? There are just characters that don't need to exist in the show. Like, they just don't need to be there at all.

BRENDON: The number of characters that they have - and really, if you think about it, the numbers of stories that they have - in the stage version and the movie, they're roughly the same. But the movie just does such a better job of introducing these little plot lines. They treat it like, “Hey, these are vignettes.” So, it's like a peek into where they are at this time that works. Whereas this one, it’s just like, “Introduce this, just because we have to, it's what they did in the movie.” And then it's like, “Okay, we're over here now. Oh god, we only have 30 minutes left, let's kill her.”

ANDREW: “Let’s kill her.” Who is the lead of this? This is a normal length of a stage show. It's two hours – A little bit short. I guess.

JESS: Andrew, Andrew, there's an easy way to figure out who the lead is. And I've been telling you this for years. The way you figure out the lead to any musical is look who has the I want song.

ANDREW: Yeah, I know.

JESS: And who has the I want song? Nick.

BRENDON: Oh, I thought it was gonna be Carmen.

JESS: Which one’s Nick?

BRENDON: Carmen has an I want song.

JESS: I remember. But Nick is the one with the I want song.

BRENDON: Nick was the guy who's like, “I wanna be Stanislavsky.” and then he goes up on stage and he's like, “I'm playing this character – ‘Plagues on both your houses.’” Like that. And I was like, “Oh dear god.”

JESS: Yeah, it's Nick. He wants to make magic. That's his goal. That's his – and does he make magic at the end?

ANDREW: Was he the one that was maybe gay? Like, there was a gay freakout?

JESS: Yes.

ANDREW: He is not the lead. No.

JESS: According to musical theatre structure, he's the one with the I want song in the I want song place.

BRENDON: But, I mean, Carmen has an I want song with “Fame, I want to live forever, and become famous.”

ANDREW: Yeah, but that's halfway through the show.

BRENDON: God, are we gonna really think that there - There was no structure in putting this thing together.

ANDREW: I think Joe is the lead. The actual I want song is Can't Keep It Down, actually.

BRENDON: Yeah, it's Joe’s erection.

JESS: He’s the one with the goal. He just wants to get the attention. I get it. I'm with you.

BRENDON: And Carmen’s like, “You're a pervert.” And then she's singing happy in the background. And I'm like –

JESS: “Yeah, can't keep it down.” “You pervert! Yeah, boners.”

ANDREW: No, like the whole class loves the song even though he's literally singing about him getting an erection at a funeral. Over his relatives having large –

BRENDON: That's a Barenaked Ladies song, isn’t it?

ANDREW: Is it?


JESS: No, no, no, that's a song from Birdemic. “Hanging out with family, got some attractive cousins.”

BRENDON: I was thinking, “I'm the type of guy who laughs a funeral. I have a history of taking off my shirt.” You know that one?

ANDREW: Yeah. I mean, I know that one.

JESS: Moving on. How do you get from the Fame movie to this is my question. Because the Fame movie was very popular –

ANDREW: Can someone explain the Fame movie to me and the audience? Because I have not seen it.

BRENDON: So, the Fame movie, it basically follows the same structure. But what it is, is David De Silva, who was a theater agent, he went and he watched A Chorus Line. And he was listening to, I can't remember which character it is - but there's one where they sing about - She gets in front of the stage and she talks about the time that she was at PA and she had to visualize a bobsled, but she couldn't do it. And the teachers just kept yelling at her and saying, “You'll never be a good actor, blah, blah, blah.” And so, De Silva walked out and he thought, “What if we made a whole film just focused on that character and that idea of these young high schoolers from different walks of New York City coming together in this school, and learning more about who they are as performers, but more importantly, who they are as individuals too?” And I think the biggest takeaway from the Fame movie is, despite its name, the biggest moral is that all the kids in there realize that fame is fleeting and that it's something that shouldn't be really chased. What's more important is figuring out your own identity. And that's what makes it really, at the time, it was the super raw look into the mind of an of an adolescent in high school.


BRENDON: It really taps into that - because it was made in, filming was in 1979, so it still has that 1970s aesthetic of filmmaking where it was director-driven, and it was really focused on stories.

JESS: It’s a gritty looking film.

BRENDON: Yeah, it's rated R. De Silva, he took that idea to Alan Parker, and here's where the conflict starts. So, De Silva, he sold the film, he commissioned to get the script made. He paid like $100,000, then he sold the script for like $4 million. And he just sold the film rights. So Alan Parker came in and he said, “Hey, thanks, Dave. I don't want you to produce this. I'm gonna go with my producer. And we're gonna make our own version of it.” But De Silva held on to the stage rights.

ANDREW: Oh, okay.

BRENDON: So, what you're seeing is De Silva's vision of what he thought the film should be, where it should be this light-hearted thing of, “Hey, let's watch these high schoolers, like basically,