Writer: Jose Ferdinandez
Music: Steve Margoshes
Lyrics: Jacques Levy
Director / Choreographer: Nick Winston
Musical Supervisor: Mark Crossland
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
Welcome to the New York City High School for Performing Arts, inhabited by talented students known as the kids from Fame. There are no promises that life here will be easy after all the iconic quote goes, “You want fame? Well, fame costs. And here is where you start paying: in sweat”.
It all began with a film in 1980 penned by Christopher Gore with music by Michael Gore (not related to one another); then continued with a television series that was unmissable at the time in 1982. A whole world of Lycra, leg warmers, leotards and low-slung shorts as worn by Coco, Leroy, Bruno, and co, opened up an enduring trend for that type of dance and fitness wear, that has existed ever since. David De Silva is the originator and producer of the stage show of Fame: he was fascinated by the New York school and its on-screen dramatizations, and couldn’t rest until he had brought a brand new version to the stage in the 1990s.
The story begins, as do all good stage performances, with scary auditions. The spotlight is on the kids with their nerves in shreds, and they all wait on tenterhooks to see if they get the coveted acceptance letter. A lucky few do, and the line of newbies forms to meet the teachers, and scene by scene the audience gets to know the varying characters brought together merely by their individual talents. There are dancers, musicians and actors, all pursuing their goal of fame, but all so different in character and background, each displaying traits and problems of their own. Love blossoms for some, dislike rears its ugly head between others. The unlikely partnership of seemingly posh, but not posh ballerina Iris (Jorgie Porter) and dyslexic hip-hopper Tyrone (Jamal Crawford) is surprising but heart-warming. Weight-watching dancer Mabel who loves food (Hayley Johnston) attracts apparent sex addict/ comic Joe (Albey Brookes). Studious piano player Schlomo (Simon Anthony) is helplessly attracted to tragic drug addicted Carmen (Stephanie Rogas), who declares, “I’m young, I’m healthy, I’m gonna live forever” but can’t deliver on it. Alongside would-be actors and talented musicians (there’s even a female drummer) school life for the kids unfolds with the stereotypical dainty dance mistress (Katie Warsop), down-to-earth drama coach (Cameron Johnson), strict English teacher (Mica Paris) and eccentric German Music master (Graham Hoadly).
The scenes are simple, merely dominated by the cast’s wonderful energetic dancing and live music playing. The backdrop consists of headshot panels presumably of pupils at the school as Carmen is up there, which change colour with the prevailing mood. Desks (which at one point are used cleverly in a dance routine), lockers, blackboards and a piano are wheeled in and out as needed, and there’s an upper level with steps so that the music players can avoid flying feet. Costumes are as predicted with sassy t-shirts, shorts of all types, dance cardis, grungy artists’ gear, and all the correct footwear, alongside the trademark ‘dancewear’. A real novelty point in the staging is a pair of small NY yellow cabs that move up and along the stage, presumably as a nod to the scene in the film where the youngsters dance atop of a car bonnet in the street. The musical numbers are not all instantly well-known, apart from the obvious Fame and maybe Bring on Tomorrow, but they are all very easy listening and heartfelt numbers, offered by very talented singers.
Yes, go along and catch a slice of Fame. If there is a criticism, it’s that there seems to be too many characters in the limelight. It is quite hard to get very involved in the lives of too many people. As a television series, it worked brilliantly because the focus could be on one or two each episode, but on the stage that isn’t an option, and the audience seems to be bombarded by too much in a short space of time. That said, the energy of the production more than makes up for it, and the evening overall is nostalgic and enjoyable – there might be no shortcut to fame, but watching someone else strive for it makes for a good evening.
Runs until Saturday 1 September 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton