Proving that it does indeed live forever, Fame The Musical is back for a 30th anniversary tour.
Based on the 1980’s phenomena, the story follows of a group of students at New York’s High School For The Performing Arts, Fame deals with a lot of contemporary issues including identity, pride, literacy, sexuality and substance abuse, which are just as relevant as they were back when the film first debuted. Opening in Manchester back in summer, the 30th Anniversary Tour of Fame The Musical proves to be just as popular now as it was then.
Fame the Musical follows the stories of ten students who successfully audition and are accepted into New York’s High School For The Performing Arts, along with their dedicated teachers, Miss Bell, Mr Myers, Mr Sheinkopf and Miss Sherman, the latter played by soul singer Mica Paris. Rather than a typical story following main characters, most of the ten students the film focuses on smaller storylines surrounding each of these. Given the original story was a film, it’s sometimes difficult to translate the nuances from film to stage, but the play does an admirable job keeping the audience up with the emotional rollercoaster of these high school students determined to make it.
Iris Kelly, a talent ballet dancer who is confused for being wealthy and snobbish, until the truth is revealed. Played by Jorgie Porter, best known for her work on Channel Four’s Hollyoaks, she’s able to put the skills learnt on Dancing with the Stars to good use as a ballet dancer, and the grace with which she and partner Tyrone (played by Jamal Kane Crawford) move together feels entirely believable. That said, at some points early into the play there were a few off notes from some of the dancers during the ensemble pieces, possibly done to show the evolution of the performers as the move through the school years.
Like all good shows, the warm up whilst not always an enjoyable as the performance is important, and the first act feels a little like this. It’s where a lot of the set up of the storylines happens; the introduction of the characters, the hopes and dreams of the students are discovered and the reality of how hard they’ll have to work to achieve it is also make clear to them. At times the first act feels a little mechanical, despite the wonderful choreography, in terms of trying to set up the plot points of the characters and it’s not always easy to see the emotional growth of the characters. But fitting this much storytelling into one musical is tricky, and whilst the first act contains the set up, it means the stage is set for act two and the powerhouse of action.
The second act feels far stronger than the first, packing in the emotional punches that have been set up by the first half of the show. The resolution to the stories are revealed, some good and some sad, a few which will see a few audience members shed a few tears. It’s also where the biggest applause of the evening so far is seen, during Miss Sherman’s solo, These Are My Children. It’s here where Mica Paris’ voice is given a real chance to shine, the soul and emotion and big notes are heartfelt. Compared to the earlier Teacher’s Argument, sung as a duet with Miss Bell (played by Katie Warsop), These Are My Children completely blew it out of the water.
The set and lighting design work particularly well, especially around the transitions between scenes, where the use of lighting casting silhouettes or shadowing the stage enhances the atmosphere. The wall of photographs, presenting the yearbook adds a nice backdrop, a reminder of the setting, both the era in which the story is set and the majority of the location in and around the high school.
There are some elements which felt like they could’ve aged a little better – the confusion over the sexuality of Nick Piazza feels clunky, saved only by the sincerity and sensitivity with which Keith Jack plays the character. The thin actress playing the overweight Mabel Washington who favours the ‘see food’ diet feels a bit over an oversight too. That said, a lot of the stories from thirty years ago resonate just as strongly then as they do now – the drive to succeed, the issues around drug addiction, ‘insta-fame’ and living up to familial expectations.
By the end of the show, everyone in the audience is up on their feet as the final song of the evening is, as you’d expect, the Oscar-winning titular song Fame, sung powerfully by Stephanie Rojas (who plays Carmen) and Mica Paris. Despite a slow start, Fame delivers an energetic show and from the audience reaction, and sorry for the cliche, but it’s easy to see why it is set to live forever.
Fame the Musical is at the Alexandra Theatre from 19 – 24 November 2018, with matinee showings on both Wednesday and Saturday. To book tickets, head to the Fame UK Tour website.
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Tristram Kenton.