Luis Salgado’s first artistic language appears to be dance, which may be the pivotal reason the director-choreographer’s new production of “Fame the Musical” performs way above expectations. The wide stage at GALA Hispanic Theatre is mainly kept open, and Salgado quickly fills it with dancers in crisp, kinetic motion. The setting is a high school of the performing arts — you remember — and the talent burst is thrilling.
Salgado’s bilingual production is in English and Spanish, with surtitles in both languages; the idea is that this class of hopeful students is a generation of “dreamers.” That’s fine, but it’s still “Fame the Musical,” a roughly 20-year-old stage project adapting a popular but problematic 1980 film (later a TV series) and leaning rather heavily on stereotypes for its young characters.
Yet Salgado’s show powers through a lot of issues thanks to its inclusive cross-cultural nature and its international cast. Having actors from all over is not unusual at GALA, but with about 25 onstage performers, a band of 10 plus three student artists, this ensemble is substantially bigger than most.
Salgado knows what he’s doing with all of them. The dancers look as though they’ve actually been in class taking ballet, jazz, even hip-hop. Romainson Romain and Amaya Perea are paired as Tyrone Jackson (the black street dancer with a reading issue) and Iris (the white ballerina who seems to be dripping with privilege), and their styles mesh wonderfully. Perea spins with ease, while Romain moves with such muscularity that he flips on angles and frequently goes upside down, holding himself up on one hand.
The entire class dances in hybrid style when Tyrone moans about the stiff discipline of the ballet drills, and the stage revs up like a purring sports car for the mash-up “There She Goes!” with the Dean Pitchford-Michael Gore title tune, “Fame.” The number is about the hard-driving ambitions of Carmen Diaz, danced and sung with steely charisma by Paula Calvo. Behind her and all around her, the ensemble swivels to the Latin rhythms coming from music director Walter “Bobby” McCoy’s orchestra above and behind the stage.
Clifton Chadick’s set is another accomplishment, with two movable banks of steel lockers adroitly suggesting the school and, when repositioned, a gritty street. (Not every character gets a happy ending.) The design is consistently smart — lights by Christopher Annas-Lee that get showbizzy when needed, costumes by Robert Croghan that capture the boldness of the high school characters, a sound design by Roc Lee that doesn’t entirely master the problem of pumping a pop-rock score into the echo-making decorative dome over the stage in the historic Tivoli space, but that mostly gets the upper hand.
The Steve Margoshes-Jacques Levy songs are well sung by Carlos Salazar and Tanya De León as aspiring actors, by Susan Oliveras and Teresa Quigley Danskey as dueling teachers, and by Alana Thomas as a dancer battling a healthy appetite. The work is as solid as the company’s “In the Heights” was two years ago, so while GALA has produced a valuable stream of new and classic Latino works — largely plays — for more than four decades, if the organization can produce musicals this well, they may want to figure out how to keep that in the mix. And remember Salgado’s name.
Fame the Musical, conceived and developed by David De Silva, book by José Fernández, music by Steve Margoshes, lyrics by Jacques Levy. Directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado. Projections, Patrick Lord. Through June 9 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. $65. 202-234-7174 or galatheatre.org