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'Sing' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 31, 1989

"Sing" asks the choreographic question: Can newcomer Peter Dobson fill the platform shoes of John Travolta? And mighty big clodhoppers they are, too.

Dominic (Dobson), a Brooklyn punk with limited horizons, slick hair and a flexible pelvis, saves his high school variety show in this dopey backstage musical. A veritable hommage to the "Fame" genre, the dance romance is based on actual performing competitions -- called Sings -- held in Brooklyn's high schools. Annually the various classes elect Sing coproducers -- usually a clean-cut couple such as wholesome Hannah Gottschalk (fresh face Jessica Steen) and her former boyfriend. But this year Miss Lombardo (Lorraine Bracco), the streetwise senior class adviser, throws the election to Dominic in hopes of redeeming the delinquent boy. "You can be senior Sing leader or the sweetheart of some 400-pound slobbering murderer," says Lombardo.

Sing or Sing Sing? What'll it be?

As auditions turn into rehearsals, Dominic is in his element -- the Fonz as Balanchine, a born auteur. Likewise he and Hannah find that opposites do attract -- even when Dominic's older brother robs her widowed mother (the lamentable Louise Lasser) -- and their relationship blossoms. Despite crime, drugs and neighborhood decay, the kids just feel like dancing.

Then along comes the school superintendent, who decides to close down Central High and cancel the Sing. But in the tradition of Rooney and Garland, the students put on the show anyway -- devising Broadway-ready sets with lumber and spray paint donated from a local hardware store. Patti LaBelle, as another feisty student adviser, belts out an inspirational number as the junior class paints sets. Nobody but nobody worries about the closing of the high school.

"Sing," derivative as it is dumb, is exactly what you'd expect from a songwriter's debut as a director. Composer Richard Baskin has teamed with "Footloose" writer-lyricist Dean Pitchford. A coming-of-age hoedown, with the dramatic oomph of "American Bandstand."

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