Book: José Fernandez
Music: Steve Margoshes
Lyrics: Jacques Levy
Director/Choreographer: Nick Winton
Reviewer: Jo Payne
Born in the 80s, Fame the Musical is enjoying its 30th-anniversary tour after an incredibly successful run in a variety of media. A movie and a TV series preceded the musical and the show had a noughties remake more recently. However, this production stands firmly rooted in the original era: lycra leggings, leotards and leg-warmers.
Even to those new to the show, Fame the Musical tells a familiar tale: struggling performers fall in love and try to find some fame and themselves along the way. Set in the High School of Performing Arts in New York City, these performers try to hone their craft and make it big, under the careful caring eyes of their teachers, including principal Miss Sherman (Mica Paris). Her solo number, These Are My Children, perfectly depicts many educators’ feelings about their roles in the lives of their students. Paris’ execution of the song is emotional, with audience members responding appropriately to the truthfulness she instils in her character.
Among the wannabes in the show is a relatable group of misfits. There are tears, tantrums and an enormous serving of energy, all alongside a plot which covers topics from drug abuse and illiteracy to the shallow world of celebrity. Amid a storyline with some fairly dark elements, Albey Brookes (Joe) and Hayley Johnston (Mabel) bring some well-timed moments of comedy with their respective solo performances.
At the interval, it is easy to feel that there is so much going on without much actually happening. While the plot follows certain characters with more detail, many lack a satisfying arch throughout the show. Thankfully, Act Two ties many loose ends together. In this production, it’s not the big names who deliver the best performance. Rather, Molly McGuire (Serena), Jamal Crawford (Tyrone) and Stephanie Rojas (Carmen) shine in their respective roles.
Without wanting to take away from the storyline or songs, at the heart of any production of Fame the Musical is the choreography and its execution. Dance is this show’s biggest strength and this cast rise to the challenge of delivering high-energy performances. As is common among similar touring pieces, many performers play an instrument on stage; this brings further authenticity to the characters’ talents.
The up-tempo songs in the show are interspersed with slower melodies which allow the audience to understand the depth of some of the characters and discover their passion for performing. Let’s play a love scene and Think of Meryl Streep, both delivered impeccably by Molly McGuire (Serena), give a taste of the zeal needed for success, while the show’s finale, Bring on tomorrow, leaves the audience feeling uplifted and inspired as they leave the theatre to return to their everyday lives.
While being a show about a world very different to that lived by many, Fame the Musical gives important messages and morals for everyone to take away: celebrating differences, building resilience, nurturing relationships. After all, ‘Fame costs. And right here is where you start paying…in sweat.’ And this cast certainly pay their dues in this show…and then some.
Runs until 10th November 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton