Actor Dennis Lee remembers a time when he went broke for a month just to catch Fame The Musical – not once, but twice in Kuala Lumpur.

“I remember going to watch this particular international production of Fame at Istana Budaya in 2002. I was so blown away by the show that I had to go watch it a second time. In fact, I blew my monthly (student) allowance just to catch it again … but no regrets!” recalls Lee, 34, with a laugh.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, how good would it be if I could be like them, doing what they were doing on stage’,” he adds.

Sometimes, dreams do come true. For Lee, he just had to wait a decade and a half.

He is playing the lead role in a local production of Fame The Musical, presented by Monday Show Entertainment and The Actors Studio.

Fame The Musical is a stage musical based on the 1980 musical film of the same name.

“It’s very exciting. I can’t believe I’m actually doing it!” says Lee, speaking during a recent interview in KL with the show’s cast.

Fame The Musical tells the stories of a group of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. They include the quiet music student Samuel (called “Schlomo” in the original show, played by Lee in this production) and the confident, fame-obsessed performer Carmen (Nabilah Hamid).

Fame The Musical, which is set during a four-year period of life at the High School of Performing Arts, sees these students deal with life, ambitions, and relationships. Amid the youthful drama, they also face various challenges in their desire to shine on stage.

Fame the musical

Despite the energetic dancing, there is also time for drama as Carmen (Nabilah Hamid) finds herself drawn to the quiet Samuel (Dennis Lee).

The show started as a film and was later adapted into a stage musical in 1988 by David De Silva, with music by Steve Margoshes and lyrics by Jacques Levy. The musical has since proved to be very popular, with hundreds of productions, in every major language, since its first production, and has even been made into a six-season TV series.

Fame The Musical will be directed by Dominic Lucien Luk, with Loh Ui Li as music director and Michael Parks as choreographer.

The two-act show will feature live music, performed by a four-piece band, and a cast of 22 performers, most of them from local musical theatre school Monday School Entertainment’s musical training programme (for teenagers and adults).

Fame has a very relatable story, especially for us, because our cast is from a performing arts school,” says Luk, 34.

“And what happens in the story has probably happened to many of them in real life. They know what it’s like to go through a rigorous training programme (session) to make a name on stage,” he adds.

“But Fame is also not just about the performing arts. On a larger scale, the issues that are dealt with in the story are not just to do with the stage. The show deals with family, poverty, career struggles, body problems and so on. To me, it’s these stories that really make it real.”

The show series is also done in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of Monday Show Entertainment.

The Monday Show Entertainment programme participants have also gone on to be involved in major local musicals staged by The Actors Studio, Dama Orchestra and Pan Productions, among others.

According to the Fame performers, working on this musical had been a pretty intense experience.

This is Monday Show’s Entertainment’s biggest production to date. Its previous shows, such as Avenue Q, Monday Blues And Other Hues, and the Small Stage series, were all done on a smaller scale.

The cast of Fame The Musical rehearsing a scene. Photo: Monday Show Entertainment

“I think it’s a culmination of everything we’ve done so far. We’ve done a lot of Small Stage shows, which started off mostly as performance practices. We’ve slowly built up a portfolio of work and gained an audience. It’s nice to be doing a full scale production!” says Nabilah, 27.

The main focus for those on stage, says Lee, is that the viewers can feel the energy of the performers.

“It’s been challenging. Compared to the last show (Avenue Q) we did, this feels like 10 times more complex! The process has been difficult, but it’s been very fruitful. I feel I’ve learnt a lot throughout the (rehearsal) sessions,” says Lee.

There is no Fame without the music. Theatre-goers can expect high-energy dance numbers and uplifting, show-stopping ballads on stage.

The musical’s most famous songs, including Let’s Play A Love Scene, Can’t Keep It Down, Hard Work, I Want To Make Magic, Bring On Tomorrow and of course, the iconic theme song, Fame, will be ready to soundtrack this live spectacle.

Irene Cara’s original version of Fame, if anything, sounds contemporary these days, complete with its 1980s hard rock guitars and synth-pop hooks.

“The first time the band played Fame live for us, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening!’ This is the song that we’ve been listening to for years and years, and we get to do that, we get to dance that!” says Nabilah with a laugh.

“The show is a treat for the eyes and the ears. The songs are great, and the voices sound really good. It’s easy to enjoy, a fun sit down- and-watch show. And I’m just glad to be part of it,” says Luk.

Fame The Musical will show at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in Kuala Lumpur from July 14 to 22. For ticket info and showtimes, call KLPac at 03-4047 9000, or visit www.ticketpro.com.my.