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"Fame" the musical
By ALLISON GOLDSTON
MATT WALLIS / Skagit Valley Herald
Sam Buchanan (left) and Mandy Simpson show off their seductive moves while being serenaded by Blake Jensen as they prepare for META's production of "Fame, the Musical."
Some could think that a local production of "Fame, the Musical" might just skip over parts of the original script that include frank discussions about sex and drugs, not to mention provocative dance moves and suggestive scenes.
But the META Performing Arts production, which runs Feb. 25 through March 12 at the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Mount Vernon, proves that the original, like its closing song, will "live forever" in all its lust and luster.
The musical, which debuted in 1989 by playwright José Fernandez, was inspired by the Oscar-winning movie and TV show that explored the glamour and scandals of attending a prestigious arts school on Manhattan's 46th Street in the early 1980s.
The local produ ction features the young members of META Performing Arts. Their local origins and age do nothing to detract from the production's big-city feel and high-stakes drama.
The actors have been taking professional dance lessons to prepare, and the lead roles feature seasoned Skagit Valley actors who have headlined in numerous school and local theater productions.
The musical opens with the song "Hard Work", showing a group of star-struck students on their first day of school singing "I can hardly wait to show them what I got. Wonder who'll come out shinin' like a jewel in the Fame school!"
After all, this is New York's legendary High School for Performing Arts. To achieve success, students must command attention at any price.
Stella Ireland, producer and director of the play, said the PG-13 musical serves an important purpose, allowing young people to openly discuss uncomfortable subjects like sex and drugs.
"Our youth really need to be able to talk about these things," Ireland said. "It's always tempting to get distracted with relationships, drugs and partying, but the reality is to fulfill your dreams you need to stay focused."
Mandy Simpson, a 2004 Sedro-Woolley High School graduate whose most recent performances include high school plays "Paint Your Wagon" and "Code of the West," plays Carmen Diaz, a girl fascinated with becoming famous, before eventually succumbing to drugs.
To prepare for the role, Simpson researched what drives people to drugs.
"I've been trying to work out why people go to the extent of isolating themselves," Simpson said.
MATT WALLIS / Skagit Valley Herald
Jordan Lange, who plays street-wise Tyrone Jackson, grooves to the song "Hard Work" with the rest of META's "Fame" cast.
She concluded that drugs can come to represent a companion for people as they become increasingly lonely.
"It's the one thing they know that will always be there for them," she said. "It's a relationship for them."
But the rock ‘n' roll lifestyle isn't the musical's only theme.
Meet Blake Jensen, who plays Schlomo Metzenbaum, a shy Jewish kid trying to escape the shadow of his father, a famous violin player. Jensen, a senior at Mount Vernon High School, has appeared in the Theater Arts Guild (TAG) 2003 play "Footloose," and the 2004 high school production "My Favorite Year," among others.
Unlike the character he plays in "Fame," Jensen said he is "a really outgoing guy." He said his character and others reflect the kind of people and issue s faced by real teenagers.
"This is like a real high school," Jensen said. "I think this play will really hit home with teenagers."
Keeping with the multicultural focus of META and the play's thematic elements, Tyrone Jackson enters the scene, played by Mount Vernon High sophomore Jordan Lange. Lange is from Thailand, but the character he plays is black.
Lange said initially it was hard to portray a black man, so Ireland slightly adjusted his role.
"I'm just playing a homie that grew up in the projects of New York," Lange said. "I'm still acting all gangster."
Lange, 15, who's had roles in TAG productions "Wizard of Oz" and "Footloose," said he got the role because of his dancing skills. He's attended Skagit Valley Academy of Dance for about seven years.
Another bad boy to look out for is Brooklyn-bred Joe "Jose" Vegas, played by Sam Buchanan, a 2003 Mount Vernon High grad. Buchanan doesn't mince words when describing his character.
"He 's obnoxious," Buchanan said, adding that his character, complete with leather jacket and bouffant hairstyle, is just there for comic relief.
Familiar with the stage, Buchanan participated in the 2000 TAG play "Grease" and META's 2003 musical "The King and I," but this is his first time in a lead role.
"It's my time to shine," Buchanan said. "This is my big break."
For many cast members, this will be their last META production, as they branch out and pursue college degrees and professional acting.
Like the characters they portray, this talented group of young people plans on going places. So when they take their bows, singing, "I'm gonna make it to Heaven, light up the sky like a flame, I'm gonna live forever, baby remember my name," the audience may want to take heed.
META Performing Arts presents "Fame, the Musical"
7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 25 through March 12
Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. First St., downtown Mount Vernon
$12-$16, $2 discount students and seniors, reserved seating
Pay What You Can Night, 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3
$8 bargain show, 7 p.m. Thursday, March 10
360-466-3072 or www.metaperformingarts.org
Allison Goldston can be reached at 360-416-2160 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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