Fame is off to tribute the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz…
After bumping her head, Doris believes she, her friends and college teachers are the characters from the Judy Garland musical film.
Fame Original 1980s TV Show Theme, MsTVTunes and photos © MGM Worldwide Television Distribution
It’s 80 years since The Wizard of Oz (1939) musical film and since then this film has inspired many film sequels, TV shows, musicals, cartoons and more. The film, I’m sure needs no introduction. But just in case you need a wee recap of this six times Oscar nominated film…
The film tells of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a young girl who is knocked unconscious during a tornado. On waking up she believes she, her house and her dog Toto are in Munchkinland, in the Land of Oz. There the pair meet Munchkins (little people), a good and wicked witch and make three friends, a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion.
Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas, with the good fairy advising her to visit the Wizard of Oz to grant this wish. She gives Dorothy some magic red slippers to protect her from the Wicked Witch of the West. This witch is not very happy as Dorothy’s house fell on top of her sister (the Wicked Witch of the East) during the tornado and killed her.
On her journey to visit the Wizard, Dorothy meets three unlikely companions. Each hopes the wizard will help them with their own problems, with the scarecrow having no brains, the tin man has no heart and the lion saying he is a coward. The wicked witch determined to stop her as Dorothy has her sister’s magic red slippers…and the rest you’ll discover on remembering or watching this film with lots of great songs and dance, its infectious annual Christmas TV for all ages.
Adaptations or homages to this classic film have included The Muppets Wizard of Oz (2005), Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz (2011) and even the writers of the recent Dynasty (2017-) reboot series. This tribute is from one of those much loved, American 1980s TV Series in a fantasy episode and it’s surprisingly not from the Moonlighting (1985-89) creators (though it could have been).
It’s from the 1980s TV show that brought you songs, dancing and leg warmers, Fame (1982-87). This series telling of the lives, loves, life lessons and adventures of the teachers and kids from the New York City High School of the Performing Arts. A school that didn’t exist in real life (but based on a real-life school).
I do remember being a bit of a Fame fan as a kid. My grandmother even gave me – and all her granddaughters – legwarmers for Christmas (rather than one of those equally then trendy T-shirts with the Fame logo on). Sadly, they were not as groovy as the Fame cast’s legwarmers as I remember mine being brown and sparkly. But I’d give my eye teeth for them now every Finnish winter. But I digress.
Fame was a TV spin off from the popular movie of the same name (and this film was directed by Alan Parker, who had nothing to do with this TV Series). It had a few faces common to both. These acting faces included Debbie Allen (Lydia), Lee Curreri (Bruno) and Gene Anthony Ray (Leroy). The theme song is as catchy and as the eighties as it comes. This song was sung by Irene Cara in the film, and by Erica Gimpel for some of the show’s run.
The TV series was a mix of drama and musical numbers. Songs from those Kids from Fame included Hi Fidelity, Starmaker and Friday Night (which are now dementedly running around my head). Fame led to the younger cast recording albums, singles and touring the UK during the show’s six seasons run.
Show Guest Stars included Jimmy Osmond, Janet Jackson, Betty White and Keith Coogan. During the show run, this eagle-eyed (read square-eyed) fan spotted Fame stars in other films with Ken Swofford (Morloch) in Annie (1982), Ann Nelson (Mrs Berg) in those Airplane (1980) films and Cynthia Gibb (Holly) in Youngblood (1986) and The Karen Carpenter Story (1989).
This particular episode from Fame that I’m reviewing from the show is called Not In Kansas Anymore, – a quote from the Wizard of Oz – and is found in the Second Season, Episode 19. The story taking us on a more fantasy inspired storyline with a similar story and familiar songs to The Wizard of Oz but given a Fame makeover.
Like the original film, the show’s initial scenes are in black and white with a wee verbal explanation of this (but sadly not from Orson Welles (in person) as they had in a Moonlighting film homage. But hey ho.) After a similar rolling screen to the original film, Doris (Valerie Landsburg) is seen clutching onto a bag and then she attends the show rehearsals.
She’s angry to find someone singing her song – Somewhere Over the Rainbow – to the teachers and her friends. Doris finds out she’s been cut from the school show for not handing in her homework by Miss Sherwood (Carol Mayo Jenkins). Doris loses her temper and then pleads to everyone she did hand in this homework and it’s her show.
Miss Sherwood tells her she doesn’t believe her about the homework, so Doris calls Miss Sherwood a witch. Doris is also annoyed with the other teachers and her cronies for not sticking up for her. This overly contrived written scene hinting far too heavily at who’ll be who in the fantasy sequence (which I’ll come to later).
Alone with her pals, Doris calls Danny (Carlo Imperato), Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) and Bruno (Lee Curreri) in turn become cowardly, brainless and without a heart. This foreshadowing their future roles in the fantasy sequence and her friends admit to these faults (just in case this went over your wee head before).
Doris then introduces her friends to the contents of the bag, a wee dog called Toto. So you might just be able to add up what’s going to happen. She then trying to catch her dog, trips over her bag and bumps her head and thinks she’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz film. As you do (see Fallon in Dynasty / Ashanti in the Muppets homage etc).
Doris wakes up in colour, in Punchkinland with the Fame extras on their knees as those Munchkins with a twist. They are called Punchkins here and Lydia (Debbie Allen) joins them as the Good Witch, cue the Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead song. The tale then trundles on with some familiar plotlines but kinda (tenuously) related to Fame.
Miss Sherwood appears as the villainous wicked witch from the West who declares Dorothy / Doris can’t be in any show (Boo! Hiss!), for killing her sister with a school locker falling on her. Doris’s friends inevitably becoming those three companions, with Danny as the Cowardly Lion, Leroy as the Scarecrow and Bruno as the Tin Man. The four set off, to get their wishes granted by the Wizard of Shorofsky singing Follow the Yellow Brick Road … and again tune to this show to see how things progress.
I had mixed feelings about this episode. I found it an affectionate remake of the original film plot and songs. The enthusiasm from the cast, Landsburg and the cast seemed to get into the spirit of this episode. I particularly enjoyed seeing Miss Sherwood as the Witch, who fantastically hammed her dramatic role to evil proportions and Debbie Allen’s Lydia singing and dancing Good Witch.
The casting of the characters into those in the Wizard of Oz sequence seemed to co-relate to those Fame actors off-screen talents and their on-screen personas in those opening black and white scenes. Mr Shorofsky (Albert Hague) was fabulous much needed comic relief as Wizard of Shorofsky.
Whereas Moonlighting‘s homage episode to film noir movies had been touching and well suited to the cast. I was again swung in two directions with Fame’s TV homage, which often made me appreciate the original film more. With the Fame script written around the original film, rather than in tune with their Fame characters adding to the fantasy. This made this episode feel contrived at times.
In setting up the characters in those initial scenes, the script gave valuable insights into who’d be who in the fantasy sequence. This was useful, but I felt this was explained in this part of the script way too much. This made it feel a bit too patronising and perhaps an in-film explanation of The Wizard of Oz plot would have been more useful.
The episode starting in black and white (which had sepia for these scenes in the original) then turning to colour was much more impactful and magical in the original film. This is possibly due to the film being made in 1939, so that time’s use of colour was quite breathtaking. This is a contrast to this eighties version, which seemed more like you’d accidentally sat on your remote control, putting the colour control at low.
Landsburg really was the central star as Dorothy, but with her companions played by her three male friends in the show (possibly to fit in with the original film), it meant poor Julie (Lori Singer) was delegated to being a prisoner of the witch. Giving the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin-man their respective character arcs to help rescue her.
But at least, she got a role – with my father’s favourite character Coco (Erica Gimpel) sadly did not appear in this episode. The Munchkins here called the Punchkins which meant Doris’ college friends were seen on their knees and beating each other with cushions, which seemed silly but merely to serve a wee in-joke.
This plotline reminded me of a Gary Oldman film where he plays a little person in Tiptoes (2003), with him performing the whole film on his knees (I kid you not). I found the portrayal of the Punchkins quite insulting compared to the original film. This film cast a multitude of little people in munchkin roles, which made these scenes more memorable and fantasy-like.
The scenes in “Oz” also looked as cheap as chips with the “School of Arts” set merely decorated as if for a school prom with tinsel curtains hanging from the walls, along with a painted yellowish brick floor, paper flowers and astroturf for grass. This in combination with the Punchkins was not as captivating as the film’s Munchkinland. In the film, you felt you were in another place with unfamiliar people which added to the fantasy.
However, some of the Fame scenery was inspired such as the poisoned poppy field scene, with blowing sheets as the poppies giving a relaxing ambience. The costumes and makeup seemed also quite creative with Dorothy given a Doris makeover with gingham dungarees and Miss Sherwood painted green quite the witch with her black mortar and flowing cloak. Dorothy’s companions also seemed quite similar in dress to those costumes, I remembered from the original film.
The musical score included a lovely instrumental musical track that was lulling and relaxing played in the poppies scene. This tune is called Find Your Dream and written by the show’s composer, William Goldstein.
Familiar songs from the film included 1980s styled versions of Ding Dong The Witch is Dead, If I only had…, Follow the Yellow Brick Road and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. These songs were all sung and danced wonderfully and enthusiastically by the Fame cast members, taking you back to the original movie and Christmas Days gone by.
After the Fame TV Series folded, the teachers and staff member cast members went on to new things. Faculty staff members, Ann Nelson appeared in Knots Landing (1979 -93) and The Golden Girls (1985-92) and Debbie Allen appearing in the recent Fame (2009) film remake. Surprisingly, the younger Fame cast went on to mainly obscurity, but with a few exceptions. These including Cynthia Gibb in The Karen Carpenter Story (1989), Jack’s Back (1988), Short Circuit 2 (1988) and quite a prolific TV and TV movie career.
Lori Singer moved on to a love interest role to Kevin Bacon in Footloose (1984) after leaving the show in 1983 and a lot more. It’s interesting to note this actress actually did play the cello in real life as well as her character did on the show. Wikipedia tells that this actress played this instrument in orchestras here, there and everywhere, proving that after her brush with Fame she had another string to her acting bow.
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
The Wizard of Oz Blogathon 2019, No 77
This post was added to Taking Up Room‘s Wizard of Oz blogathon. Other films and TV Shows with this cast include Debbie Allen who appeared in The Love Boat. Albert Hague appeared in Hotel. Ann Nelson had roles in Knots Landing, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas. Valerie Landsburg was also in Columbo and Hotel.