FAME THE MUSICAL, AT THE ARTS THEATRE
What is the price of Fame? No, I don’t mean the cost of a ticket for this week’s show at the Arts Theatre. ‘Fame the Musical’ explores (sort of) the downside of the American Dream – it don’t come easy and it comes with a hefty price tag. Or at least it did in the late 80s when the teenage dance fest was set in a New York performing arts academy that knew not of mobile phones, snapchat or Facebook. In that far-off pre-social media world, instant fame was not on offer – you had to graft and sweat for it.
The musical was an offspring (some might say bastard child) of the 1980 movie. It retained only one song, the well-known title anthem – an irresistibly toe-tappin tune. All the rest were freshly composed and with one or two exceptions most of the playlist was pretty forgettable. That said, this is a show which positively glows with nuclear energy – it crackles and pops with boundless youthful cavorting creating a sort of Sizewell B of fissile fun. Though the characters and plots are nano-thin, the production gives off a strange kind of radiation which numbs the critical senses and plays havoc with a reviewer’s reason. Against all odds, I really enjoyed the show.
That said I have had a special relationship with ‘Fame!’ going back nearly 40 years. In 1983, I wrote my first sketch show for the Edinburgh Fringe and gave it the title ‘Foam!’ Such was Fame’s fame back then, that audiences flocked to see what purported to be a parody of the movie. It was nothing of the sort (being a bunch of random skits) but the branding was a winner. Though even in the early 1980s I was too old to believe I was going to live forever or learn how to fly, there was something infectious about this show at the Arts last night: a sort of musical elixir, making everyone who saw it feel like a teenager again.
The show follows the fortunes (or otherwise) of a bunch of NYC adolescents who struggle to find fame by going through the ringer of the Performing Arts school. We follow their progress through their years at the college from day one to graduation chorus number.
Prema Mehta’s clever lighting design created an ever-changing landscape of verticals (very Manhattan skyline) and an engaging backdrop of school alumni. Nick Winston both choreographer and stage director created a visually exciting, fast-moving production which is loud, breathless in pace and very well sung. But his is first and foremost a dance spectacle and one loses count of the number of eye-popping routines. There is graceful ballet but mainly super physical acrobatics. Prime movers here are Jamal Kane Crawford as Tyrone, the troubled kid from the projects and Jorgie Porter who plays Iris, the would-be prima ballerina from the wrong side of the tracks. Though Mica Paris shone as Principal Sherman – especially with an astonishingly powerful torch song – the real star of the show was Stephanie Rojas as the Latino girl who looks for short cuts to that elusive fame. In both dance and song, she was terrific dominating the stage whenever she appeared.
As the plot tied up its various knots (pairs of fretting lovers who had to be reconciled), the audience ached to hear that famous number once more. They were not to be disappointed for there it was in the encore bringing the whole audience to its collective feet. Whatever the price of the front stalls, Fame was worth every penny.