It’s somewhat ironic that Alan Parker’s cautionary tale about the price of fame created a franchise that became fame’s rallying call. Parker’s classic movie Fame, from 1980, spoke to the grit, hard work and determination needed to succeed in the New York High School for the Performing Arts, whilst also showing, with unvarnished realism, what can happen to those who don’t make it. Later, from the early to late 80’s, Fame morphed into a popular, but sanitised TV series that inspired a generation of fame seekers, followed by a remake of the original movie in 2009 so sickeningly bad you might lose the will to live just by mentioning it.
In between there was "Fame - The Musical" from 1988 (not to be confused with the reality TV show of the same name), conceived and developed by David De Silva, with book by Jose Fernandez, lyrics by Jacques Levy and music by Steve Margoshes. An ambitious undertaking, "Fame - The Musical" strove to blend a little more make believe with Parker’s harsh realities, and made a pretty good job of balancing both. Now on its 30th anniversary tour, "Fame - The Musical" still has a lot to offer its die hard fans, young and old alike, in a production with many ‘Bam!’ moments. But it’s also a production that, like some of its characters, needs to raise its game in places. For if "Fame - The Musical" still has its edge, it’s slightly dulled for looking a little jaded at times when it really didn’t have to.
Covering the years 1980 to 1984, "Fame - The Musical" follows a handful of gifted teenagers, students at the New York High School for the Performing Arts, from audition to graduation, exploring the ups and downs, highs and lows of these wannabe dancers, actors and musicians. These are the best of the best, with the potential to be the very best. But fame costs, as everyone knows. And not everyone is up to paying the price. Especially those confusing ego with self-expression, believing they know better than Mozart or Shakespeare, and believing they don’t need to develop technically or academically. Setting off on a tumultuous voyage of discovery, they soon learn who they are and who they aren’t, what they know and what they need to learn, all the while singing, dancing, and falling in love as they get ready to bring on tomorrow.
Under director and choreographer Nick Winston, "Fame - The Musical" has all the ingredients it needs to succeed, but not all are delivering to standard. Morgan Large’s design, dominated by its yearbook wall of ugly, dates rather than designates the space and does itself few favours, achieving at best a pyrrhic victory. Much more successful is Large’s cleverly movable set, which facilitates Winston’s fractured segments of action and song, allowing them to move and merge with ease. Indeed, Winston’s shifting and split screen direction, kaleidoscopic at times, bleeds and blends multiple perspectives into a seamless whole.
Yet despite some killer moments, something lacklustre runs throughout. If Winston’s choreography is transfer-ably smart, aiming for ease and efficiency within either large or confined spaces, its execution is often slack, lacking both energy and synchronicity. Certain voices suffer from the same slackness. A fact made noticeable by some imbalanced duets and group dance sequences, where those who consistently bring it hold others to account, inadvertently highlighting where they need to raise their game. Because those who burn, and several do, burn brightly.
Albey Brookes delights with plenty of over the top crudeness as class clown Joe. As does Hayley Johnston as diet hater Mabel, looking like a scrubbed up Harley Quinn channelling the spirit of Miley Cyrus. Stephanie Rojas is consistently strong as Carmen, a girl so focused on surviving she’s forgotten how to live, with Rojas hitting home hard with In L.A. Ryan Kayode’s temperamentally tough Tyrone oozes swagger, yet dancing, especially lifts, aren’t always as sharp. In fairness to Kayode, who steps in as admirable cover for Jamal Kane Crawford, he might still be finding his rhythm, and dance routines across much of the board are consistently sluggish. A point forced home by a radiant Jorgie Porter as ballerina Iris, whose snap sharp execution is invariably impressive and on point, serving as an unforgiving contrast for what should have been. As does a divinely sharp Katie Warsop as Mrs. Bell, who may not have much to do, but, like Porter, pulls focus to her the instant she moves. Molly McGuire proves to be scene stealingly flawless as Serena; her performance impeccable, her singing textured and warm. A superlative Mica Paris as Miss Sherman, delivering a show stopping rendition of These Are My Children without even having to try, helps bring home the big "Fame - The Musical" finish.
Despite not always bringing its best game, "Fame - The Musical" still brings more than enough to delight. If brand Fame has had it lows, "Fame - The Musical", on its best day, must be considered amongst its highs. Its can-do attitude glosses over some of the darker aspects of the original movie, but it doesn’t obliterate them. Marrying dramatic substance to its irrepressibly feel good song and dance routines are just some of the reasons "Fame - The Musical" is still going strong after thirty years.
"Fame - The Musical", conceived and developed by David De Silva, with book by Jose Fernandez, lyrics by Jacques Levy and music by Steve Margoshes, produced by Selladoor Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions,Dan Looney and Adam Paulden, Stephen McGill Productions and Jason Haigh-Ellery in association with Big Dream/Michael Dahl Rasmussen, BrightLight Productions and Announcement Productions ran at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until June 22.
Currently running at The Peacock Theatre London until October 19.
For more information, visit Peacock Theatre, London