Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Fame

David De Silva (concept), Jose Fernandez (book), Jacques Levy (lyrics) and Steve Margoshes (music)
Selladoor Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions, Dan Looney & Adam Paulden, Stephen McGill Productions and Jason Haigh-Ellery,Big Dreamer Productions, BrightLights Productions and Ian Melding
The Palace, Manchester
20 July 2018 to 28 July 2018

Selladoor Productions have pretty much cornered the market in musical revivals for the touring circuit. Fame promises to be their best shot so far at hitting the elusive bulls-eye.

Fame solves the problem that often plagues musicals by establishing a credible reason why the cast burst into song and dance at a moment’s notice - it is a requirement of the curriculum. Fame is essentially a cautionary tale. The pupils of The New York High School for the Performing Arts must learn to avoid shortcuts on the way to fame by working hard and overcoming their personal limitations. Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford) is a talented dancer and potential choreographer but has to learn not to be defensive about his dyslexia. Carmen (Stephanie Rojas) may be seduced by the offer of an easy path to fame that also involves the use of drugs.

Director and choreographer Nick Winston takes inspiration from experience of joining any new organisation. The audience is put in the position of new students at the High School and subjected to a delirious and overwhelming series of events as the pupils try to come to terms with their new environment. Half an hour passes before anyone involved in the production can draw breath. Morgan Large’s set, comprising photographs of pupils looking down on the new class in judgement, helps establish the environment in which the pupils are constantly under review.

Winston does, however, feel the need to acknowledge the earlier incarnations of Fame. The film version ended with the cast dancing atop New York yellow taxis and such vehicles do make an appearance on the stage although their presence is more puzzling than effective. In other ways, however, the production is bang up to date; current political sensitivities being reflected in the non-English character of Carmen singing a verse of the title song in her native tongue.

The rapid and hectic pace helps to gloss over one of the major flaws in the show - there is simply insufficient time to get to know any of the characters in depth. We get glimpses of their problems – potential eating disorders; trying to live up to familial expectations - but never really get the chance to dig below the surface.

Winston’s choreography is a great help in ensuring that the underlying issues with the storyline can be overlooked. Typical of a school in which various styles must be taught the dancing jumps, from classical, to tango, to hip-hop, with the cast never putting a foot out of place.

The only factor which spoils the production is volume. The Palace tends to over-amplify productions and that is certainly the case with Fame. Considering that powerful vocalists like Mica Paris, who plays a teacher at the school, could probably fill the theatre without any kind of amplification it seems over-cautious and makes you wish the producers, having assembled a fine cast, had greater faith in their abilities.  

Fame throws the audience into the confusing and intoxicating lives of the students, letting them emerge entertained if a little breathless at the experience.

Reviewer: David Cunningham