ANYTHING CALLING itself Fame: The Musical is, to my mind, daring you to recall Fame, the movie -- and in the process, digging its own grave. The musical, now at the Paramount, blatantly rips off the film -- about a bunch of diverse kids scraping their way through New York's High School of the Performing Arts -- but features only one of the movie's songs (the classic title track) and none of its style.

What passes for a book, by the late Jose Fernandez, plays like Saved by the Bell by way of some boisterous '40s musical. Jacues Levy and Steve Margoshes' songs, at their best, are Simpsons-worthy parodies. How else can one explain a song about an erection called "Can't Keep It Down"? Some of the performers have presence and a few actually have voices, yet none of this material is salvageable.

The diversity of the school is caked on with what I'm sure is sincerity, but it plays like a young Republican's idea of Shangri-La. The "gay" character turns out to be a shy straight guy and the varying ethnicities are presented via cuddly stereotypes. There's actually a student named "Schlomo" and a Jewish music teacher waddling around kvetching, "Eewey pyooey! Rock und roll! Vhy?" Vhy indeed, Mr. Scheinkopf.

I realize that the musical's cinematic counterpart, however beloved by my generation, also suffers occasionally from a certain naiveté; imagine a sanitized version of the film's flaws and you'll get an idea of the musical's failure. One of the many qualities the film has that this production lacks is an edgy, electric sense of the almost embarrassing passion with which artists take flight in pursuing their dreams. In this limp stage incarnation, Fame really wants to live forever but it doesn't learn how to fly.

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