It's a name still remembered

Fame

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

***

IT SEEMS Fame might just go on to live forever with this Bill Kenwright production the latest incarnation of the hit musical which is the handiwork of David De Silva, who was also the man behind the original, the 1980 film directed by Alan Parker.

Despite some updating from the film, particularly with celeb names, it is still a musical of its time with storylines which can be viewed as universal or hackneyed depending upon your point of view.

We have Tyrone Jackson, played with convincing arrogance and swagger by Alex Thomas, the poor African American kid hiding the secret of illiteracy and with not so much a chip as a whole bag of spuds on his shoulder about being black.

Then to keep the minority theme going we have another angry, disadvantaged teenager in Hispanic Carmen Diaz, a feisty performance from Jodie Steele, who wants it all and wants it now.

While all the students at the New York City High School are lured by the dream of fame and their moment in the spotlights, she is the only one tempted to follow the lights now following an agent, or at least he said he was, and a promise of celebrity in LA,  her inevitable end is nicely done, utilising Diego Pitarch’s clever set, imaginatively lit by Tim Oliver.

On the other side of the tracks there is Iris, the classy ballet dancer played by Sasi Strallen, tagged as a rich kid, but in reality as poor as the rest, apart from Schlomo, played sympathetically by Harry Blumenau, whose father is a famous concert violinist, or Nick, played with adolescent intensity by Alex Jordan- Mills. He is a kid who has been a performer since the age of three and has national TV commercials to his credit.

A don't try this at home moment from Alex Thomas as the troubled dancer Tyrone

He wants to be a proper actor though and has no time for a love interest with a lovesick Serena, played with a doleful air by Sarah Harlington, which labels him as gay. She gives a lovely rendition of Think of Meryl Streep as well as the soulful, teenager in love ballad Let’s Play a Love Scene together, reprised with Nick

Obviously not gay is Joe Vegas, a Bronx boy with attitude, played by Joseph Giacone, who makes no secret of his erectilability (is there such a word? Ed.) in Can’t Keep it Down.

Keeping discipline is Miss Sherman, played by Landi Oshinowo, the English teacher, who doesn’t let talent trump grades, which is the downfall of Tyrone, who gets by in English by copying Iris’s work to hide the fact he can’t read.

He is set to fail which leads to a battle on two fronts for Miss Sherman, first with Hermione Lynch as Miss Bell, the dance teacher who sees Tyrone’s dance abilities more important than his academic grades, or in this case, lack of them, and then another clash with Tyrone.

The clash between these two shows the teacher as first harsh and then caring, trying to drag Tyrone out of a the dead end life he is destined to live as an illiterate black kid. She is trying to do the best for her students as people not just as artists with a powerful rendition of These are My Children. She and Tyrone come to an arrangement. One day he might well be a dancer, but not if the only thing he can read or write is his name on a contract.

He doesn’t need words though for his touching pas de deux with Iris as that pair also work out their differences.

One of the musical highlights comes fromthe Mabel’s Prayer sung by, well Mabel. Mabel is the . . . well upholstered Mabel Washington, played by Molly Stewart, who can really belt out a song. The lively Mabel has a love of food greater than her love of dance so rather than lose weight, she loses dance and majors in acting.

The musical was written by Jose Fernandez with Lyrics by Jacques Levy and music by Steve Margoshes all in collaboration with De Silva, which is a pretty classy pedigree and Pitarch’s split level design with two huge stage blocks to create classroom, stage, dance studio and locker room with a few pushes below a sort of mezzanine is a clever one.

Joe Vegas, played by Joseph Giacone, giving us slightly more information than we strictly needed about his physical reaction to womanhood

The upper level, apart from an extra stage, is also home for an excellent five piece band under musical director Andy Ralls.

Perhaps though the sound balance needed to be worked on, always a potential problem with opening nights in new theatres. Vocals tended to be a little lost, or somewhat woolly, which meant words were lost in songs such as Carmen’s moving anthem of heartbreak, In LA.

The end, a typical US High School graduation, gowns and all, did have a hint of a Billy Graham evangelical revival meeting about it, slick as it might have been, but it all ended on a lively note in an encore with the return of Carmen for a curtain call and a wall shaking, roof lifting, floor rumbling audience participation of the iconic Fame – written incidentally by Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore from the original film and winner of the Oscar for best original song.

This is an enthusiastic and lively production, well choreographed and directed by Gary Lloyd, with half a dozen back tales to maintain an interest but through no fault of cast or production, ultimately we never really get to know any of the characters which leaves us with a sense of 80’s nostalgia – at least those old enough to have lived through the 80s . . . and the 70s and 60s, and . . . I’ll stop there.

With a cast of 20 and a band of five it is a big production with a largely young and hungry cast – as it should be, after all it is what the musical is about, and they don’t disappoint. To 08-03-14.

Roger Clarke

And from the classrooom down the hall . . .

****

THERE’S a new look about this lively production of the musical based on the Oscar-winning film about life, love and tragedy in the New York’s high school for performing arts.

The five-strong band are perched about 10ft above the main stage, with a dramatic backdrop of sky scrapers and illuminated ads, and at times some of the cast join the musicians at the higher level.

It looks good and works particularly well, providing a different dimension for the young wannabe students – the cream of the cream – who have made it to the school which demands total commitment, insisting that acting is the hardest job in the world.

In the early scenes the dancing to Gary Lloyd’s choreography is electric, and Joseph Giacone, playing Joe Vegas, gives a brilliant performance with the cheeky, most humorous song in the show – Can’t Keep It Down.

On the serious side, Alex Thomas dances superbly as the illiterate but talented Tyrone Jackson, and Jodie Steele is convincing in the role of the troubled Carmen Diaz.

One of the show’s big numbers, These Are My Children, is beautifully sung by Landi Oshinowo, the school’s strict English teacher, Miss Sherman, and Sarah Harlington (Serena) is a delight with Let’s Play a Love Scene.

There’s the usual big finish with the song Fame, featuring the entire cast...and the audience.

To 08.03.14

Paul Marston

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