By Adam B. Vary
Updated September 21, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Saeed Adyani

Sept 25

STARRING Naturi Naughton, Asher Book, Kherington Payne, Paul McGill
WRITTEN BY Allison Burnett
DIRECTED BY Kevin Tancharoen

This $25 million remake of the 1980 musical still features Irene Cara’s title song (”I’m gonna learn how to fly — high!”) and trails a group of wannabe stars at a New York City performing-arts high school. But a lot has changed in 29 years. The song’s gotten a hip-hop remix, characters now pursue careers in rap and filmmaking, and, as director Kevin Tancharoen notes, ”the word fame nowadays means something completely different — make a video of yourself crying about Britney Spears in your bedroom and you’re famous.” So Tancharoen, a former dancer-choreographer making his feature debut at age 25, set out to showcase real talent. He cast relative unknowns who ”really have their chops,” he says, including Naturi Naughton (Notorious) as a pianist yearning to sing and So You Think You Can Dance contestant Kherington Payne as a hot-to-trot hoofer. And he filled the teachers’ lounge with showbiz vets like Kelsey Grammer, Debbie Allen, and Megan Mullally. ”[Kevin] is just cool as a cucumber,” laughs Mullally, who plays the vocal instructor. ”You wouldn’t know he was the director. He just seems like a gaffer or something.” But you may want to remember his name.