MTV proclaims “Taking the Stage” to be “an entirely new genre of television for us … the reality musical drama.” That’s funny, because it’s really just an old take on the movie “Fame” — a documentary-style reality show set in Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts. Produced and conceived by Nick Lachey (an SCPA graduate), the series betrays elements of manipulation, but for the target audience, it should make for a compelling docu-soap inasmuch as the central players have all the requisite attributes — they’re young, talented, attractive and emotional.
The “story” zeroes in on five key characters, each pursuing different disciplines with the same general aspiration. Four are dancers of one sort or another (ballet, hip-hop) and happen to be African-American: Jasmine, Shaakira, her friend Malik and Tyler, the new kid, to whom Shaakira is obviously attracted.
The fifth student, Mia, is a singer-songwriter who has boyfriend difficulties as she and everyone else are preparing for the big talent show. These exchanges feel a bit too massaged for their own good, a reminder that docu-soaps need to be consumed with a grain of salt.
That said, “Taking the Stage” brims with energy. There’s a spontaneous dance-off (very much like “Fame”) and genuine tension as the kids get ready to perform. Think of this as another side of “American Idol” — the hard work and hunger that goes into such a career path despite the overwhelming odds against success — without having anybody vote them off.
As a series, such an endeavor is only as good as its raw ingredients, and the “cast” is initially appealing. Of course, the students’ quest is slightly bastardized by the fact that it’s going to play out on national television, but these days, what else is new?
Despite its claims, then, MTV hasn’t discovered anything new here, but the network has dressed up a durable, oft-copied 30-year-old concept in a neatly wrapped package for an entirely new audience — one likely still enamored with the notion that they, too, will live forever.