The cast of Fame on 42nd Street(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
The cast of Fame on 42nd Street
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
The most depressing aspect of the relentless mediocrity Fame on 42nd Street is that this is the first musical a lot of young people will see -- which means that a whole new generation can now lament the state of the art form.

On the night we saw the show, the audience at the Little Shubert Theatre was lousy with teenagers. Apparently, starry-eyed kids who dream of show business careers are flocking to this travesty in the belief that they'll see a recreation of the original movie and/or TV series. Fame on 42nd Street is neither; its aspirations are even lower. In fact, it would appear to exist largely to cash in on its title. Poorly written, amateurishly staged, and performed without distinction, the show might more aptly be titled Infamy on 42nd Street.

The kids in the show may have some talent, but who can say when they're sabotaged by what they have to sing, dance, and speak? Everything about this production screams "road show." That is, in fact, what the show has been for a great many years: It has played all over the U.S. and around the world but wisely stayed out of New York. Until now. Simply put, nothing in this show is worth recommending. Even the lighting is annoying!

Yes, Fame on 42nd Street is low-tech, but it's also low-I.Q. Yes, it's got energy, but that energy is dissipated by a cliché-ridden script, banal songs (with even worse arrangements), and Choreography 101 dance routines. If this Fame lives forever, somebody in the marketing department will deserve an award.

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Cleo Laine and John Dankworth
Cleo Laine and John Dankworth
Nightlife Notes

The effortless artistry of Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth is on glorious display through Saturday night at Feinstein's at the Regency. Jazz vocalists strive to make their voices the equivalent of great musical instruments; Laine, scatting in perfect tandem with Dankworth's riffs on everything from sax to clarinet, gives an exhibition of jazz singing that will leave you with mouth agape, wondering how she does it. But Laine is something more than a great jazz artist; she is also an expressive actress who goes beyond the notes and gives serious attention to lyrics. In addition to their mesmerizing music, the husband-and-wife team of Laine and Dankworth are also great fun on stage; their respect and love for each other comes across in their playful banter. Icons are in short supply, so catch these two while you can.

Icon-in-training Sharon McNight recently presented one of the most compelling musical comedy acts of the year in a show devoted exclusively to living female composers. Choosing her material with great care and performing it with characteristic abandon, McNight championed music that absolutely needs to be heard. Relatively few of the composers are well-known: Amanda McBroom, Michele Brourman, Fran Landesman, and perhaps K.T. Oslin are among the name brands whose work was sampled in this show at Mama Rose, called Ladies, Compose Yourselves!. The rest are relative newcomers -- and they are very welcome! McNight opened the show with a hysterically funny song titled "Bacon," by Liz McNamara. "I Slip Into This Place" by Adryan Russ gave McNight a powerful blues opportunity; "A Woman's Story" by Beckie Menzie & Cheri Coons was oh, so clever and "Mad Dog Killer" was wonderfully nutty. These were just some of the discoveries in an endlessly entertaining act. The combination of terrific material, hilarious patter, and commanding vocal prowess made it almost impossible for us to compose ourselves; there wasn't a moment during the show when we weren't responding vociferously.

Less successful but still intriguing was a recent revue of songwriter D.C. Anderson's work. We're big fans of this iconoclastic composer: He has an offbeat sense of humor, a sly way with a lyric, and a jaunty melodic style. He's also written some emotionally charged ballads that are as moving as his comic songs are funny. Staged at The Duplex by Lennie Watts, the show was titled Not for the Squeamish and it boasted a winning cast that included Watts as well as Julie Reyburn and Rob Sutton. The reasons for the roller coaster quality of the revue were twofold: (1) not all of its nearly two dozen songs were among the best of Anderson's compositions, and (2) a few too many of the selections seemed inappropriate for these cast members. When song and singer did match up, however, there was cause for much applause. For instance: When Watts performed "I Leave in Doubt" (music by Lem Jay Ignacio), a subtle and complex song about the end of a relationship, it was one of several pinnacles in this spiky show. Both Reyburn and Sutton proved adept at comedy and even the band had its moments; in particular, bass player Ritt Henn was dryly comical as he put over "Click Here," a number that satirizes cyberlifestyles.