Dean Pitchford, an award-winning Honolulu pop songster and a Broadway performer and creative force, credits “High School Musical” and its uncanny ability to lure young folks into theaters for the renewed interest in two of his earlier films, “Fame” and “Footloose.”
A new “Fame” flick premieres nationally today, bearing the title tune he co-wrote plus “Out Here on My Own,” performed by a cast of eager singers and dancers eager for breakout fame of their own.
Another take on “Footloose,” which made Kevin Bacon a star, is due in March, 2010 with “Gossip Girl” hottie Chace Crawford replacing Zac Efron who bailed out as Ren McCormick, the role that launched Bacon.
“Fame,” which earlier was a movie, inspired a TV series as well as a stage musical, seems to have nine lives like that proverbial cat. Pitchford earned an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for co-writing the “Fame” title song, but was not involved in the relaunch.
“I have high hopes for this one,” said Pitchford, 58. “No one from the studio invited me to create this new film, but I’m sure I’ll stand in line, like everyone else, to see it.”
Why is it back?
“In three words, ‘High School Musical,’” said Pitchford, pinpointing a filmic fountain of youth. “Everybody in Hollywood is excited about this teen thing, which has been an amazing phenomenon. Everyone wants to own something like this, so they look into the vaults. We did ‘Fame’ 28 years ago and ‘Footloose’ has been a beneficiary. Besides the new ‘Footloose’ coming out, the musical is playing in South America and is poised to open in Paris.”
Again, Pitchford is not attached to the new “Footloose,” but he’s not bothered. Not now, anyway.
“First time you hear that your project is being done (again) and you’re not invited to do it, it stings; but I have moved on,” said Pitchford. “I know I created something worth reproducing, and I don’t (need) acknowledgement for my contribution. It’s a whole new world out there.”
“Fame,” of course, is about kids from the New York-based La Guardia Performing Arts School, who sing and dance whose basic quest is to be famous. That mantra has infiltrated the mindset; Fox’s new TV youth musical, “Glee,” deals with chorus wannabes at a performing arts school — with emotional roots in “Fame” and “A Chorus Line.”
“Fame” can be credited for energizing and influencing “High School Musical” as well the current flock of TV reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent.”
This drive for stardom also has been a central theme with the earlier revival of Broadway’s “A Chorus Line” and “Every Little Step,” the companion documentary of the making and mounting of the revival and the original Tony Award-winning musical, where getting a job, and a taste of fame, is the ticket to the spotlight.
But whoa, Pitchford is somewhat relieved to finally distance himself from this genre.
“I look back and I was becoming the Zac Efron of Broadway creators, doing shows with high school themes,” said Pitchford. Besides “Fame and “Footloose,” Pitchford scripted a 1989 film called “Sing,” about a talent contest at a Brooklyn high school, and “Carrie,” a stage musical with Pitchford’s lyrics, that was a 1988 Broadway casualty, after being a cult film (it had a bloddy prom scene) based on the Stephen King Gothic novel.
His latest passion is fiction. His second novel for youths, “Captain Nobody,” was released this summer and is poised to be launched in many markets in the weeks and months ahead. His first, “The Big One-Oh,” was a Grammy nominee for Best Audio Recording when he recorded the story, a formula he has repeated for “Captain Nobody.”
Without realizing it, Pitchford found his inspiration for “Captain Nobody” only after finishing the book. “It’s about a little guy who makes good, living in the shadows of a more famous family member, and when the book was over and done, I said to myself, ‘Omigod, that is my story, when I was 11.” His own father moved 5,000 miles away from Honolulu and Pitchford — for the rest of his adolescent years — desperately tried to get his parents back together. “I wrote my father letters; I’d bring my mother flowers, telling her they were from my dad, trying to make our broken family whole again,” he said.
Nowadays, he is shuttling from his West Coasts digs to New York, where he is working on a Broadway project he can’t yet divulge.
He doesn’t miss performing but he's ecstatic about the process of creating theater. “There is something about the magic of working in the theater,” said Pitchford. “It’s the only form where everybody who is creating is in the same room at the same time together.”
Pitchford said his new musical will stretch his profile as a creative artist, meaning no more shows about kids singing, dancing and chasing stardom.
But, he said, if and when the time comes, his tombstone will inevitably quote his most famous line: “I'm gonna live forever, baby remember my name. Fame.” Amen!
LET’S HEAR IT
FOR THE BOY,
Local ties: 1968 graduate of Saint Louis School
Island theater: Diamond Head Theatre (in its Honolulu Community Theatre era), Honolulu Theatre for Youth
New York theater: Off-Broadway’s “Godspell,” 1971; Broadway’s “Pippin,” 1972
Latest film: A remake of the 1980 movie, “Fame,” with the identical title, opening today.
Next up: “Footloose,” an update of his 1984 film, with Chace Crawford playing the Kevin Bacon role, in March 2010.
Latest book: “Captain Nobody” (Putnam), already out.
Best known chart hits: “Fame,” “Footloose,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Out Here on My Own,” “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” “After All,” “All the Man That I Need.”