Wednesday, 4th August 2004
It was the ultimate film about making it big in the business called show, so it only seems right that the stage production of the 1980 movie should hit the heights as well.
Since opening in the West End in 1995, the adaptation of Alan Parker's original screen play has been seen by 3.5m people all over the world and is now set to hit the road in the UK for the fourth time in eight years.
Re-telling the tale of a bunch of passionate students at New York's High School for the Performing Arts, the audience are invited to follow them as they strive from first audition to graduation and the trials and tribulations that unfold along the way.
In real life the school itself boasts a strong list of graduates including Jennifer Aniston, Liza Minnelli, Al Pacino, Suzanne Vega and Eartha Kitt so a there is no lack of role models for the students to look up to.
In this celebrity obsessed world, how satisfying it is to have a show where the criteria for success are the blood, sweat and tears that come with hard work and talent required to succeed.
I caught up with producer Adam Spiegel prior to Fame's opening on August 20 to find out more about the show's enduring success and where it goes from here:
The tour opens at The Lowry later this month. Have you had to make many alterations since last time out?
The show itself is very similar but what we've done this time is use pretty much the youngest cast we've ever had. We've always wanted to do the show with people who are literally just out of drama school, but normally it's very difficult to find a whole cast who are in that position. For the first time though we've managed to get the most fantastic group. They're all 19 or 20 and maybe the best we've ever had. I don't know that for sure yet, but so far in rehearsals the signs are very encouraging?
How heavily are you involved on a day-to-day basis, because you have other shows on your production company's roster as well?
Fame was the first thing I did when I started the company so I have a particular sense of ownership about it, not in a nasty way, but I do feel very proprietorial about it. I've been doing it for the best part of 10 years so I'm very heavily involved with it. I don't interfere with rehearsals as that's the director's domain but I will witness them and I'll certainly be at the opening.
As the show is so established now does this enable you to bring in such a young cast as a lot of shows that go on tour usually have a celebrity in the lead role?
Fame is the star, I know that sounds like a terrible cliche but it's sort of true. It's about a group of kids at drama school, so if you put someone in from Pop Idol you kind of lose the point. It's about becoming a star not someone who has already achieved that. Also everyone who is in it is required to act, sing and dance to an incredible high standard and the truth is there are no young stars who can do those things properly. A soap star probably wouldn't be able to sing and dance and a pop star certainly can't act. So it's a route we've never gone down.
The show is nearly 10 years old now, how did you first get involved with it?
Well originally I actually went to Los Angeles to see a production of it and then we decided to bring it in to London. It ran first time round for a couple of years and since then it's been on tour and been in London again for the last four years.
Fame arrives at The Lowry on Aug 20
The show is co-produced with Mark Goucher. How important is it to you to have someone to bounce ideas off?
Oh terribly important. Some of the worst ideas I've had have been when I've been working on my own and nobody's prepared to say, "that's a lousy idea". When you are in a partnership with somebody though it makes it so much easier. We're all capable of coming up with appalling ideas so you need somebody to prevent you spending any money on them. Mark has played a collosal role in Fame, particularly with revitalising its touring life around the country.
The show has played to audiences all over Europe, Asia and Australia. Are there any frontiers you would still like to break?
I think Russia and China are the most exciting theatrical sort of pioneer countries. I've done the show across Europe and in Malaysia where there is a lot of censorship laws and it was the first mainstream musical to go there. I think China and Russia will be places Fame does go to but it's going to take a while. For a currency reason you can't make sense of working in China yet and Russia is obviously a bit of an unknown quanity.
Do you think the show possesses the qualities which will appeal to people in these countries?
Yes I do, fame as a thing is obviously universal and the movie is so well known as well. I've always been staggered by the fact that when we do auditions we always get kids who are 14 or 15 coming along who frankly have no right to have heard of it. Somehow it has becoming a trademark across the globe for inspiration and everyone has a relationship with that.
It is in vogue at the moment to base West End shows on nostaligic films or bands from the 70s and 80s. Do you think it is close to reaching saturation point?
I don't know, it's the question that everybody is asking at the moment. I think that shows that have a real story and wonderful music will always have a place in the West End. Whereas the shows that don't really have a story and are based around a catalogue of somebody's music, I personally don't think they are going to last forever, no. Clearly we are in a period where these sort of shows are around at the moment, they suit the night out 20 to 40-year-olds are after. Society is moving away from the more operatic musicals I think, but these things are always cyclical anyway.
In terms of yourself, when did becoming a theatre producer first emerge as a possible career move for you?
I don't really know. I just sort of fell into it, I know that's not a very romantic answer! Somehow the first sort of job I got was working for Jonathan Miller at the Old Vic. I really liked it, I liked the people and I just moved to various jobs from there and though t I then like to be a producer.
How did you go about making that leap?
When I was about 19 or 20 I got involved with a couple of productions that were absolutely terrible that I produced myself. I recognised that I hadn't done a very good job so I went to work for the legendary West End producer Michael White. I spent four or five years with him before heading out on my own again. This guy pretty much invented theatre producing, he's been doing it for forty old years in the West End and it brilliant at it. So watching him everyday you learned everything you could.
I think you've got about four shows at the moment that are touring, is there anything new in the pipeline?
There is, but not stuff I can really talk about as the moment you do they don't happen. It's one of those awful rules. We pretty busy anyway with Fame and Saturday Night Fever on tour all over. Hopefully by the middle of next year there will be something new ready.
Are you pleased with how the other two shows on your roster, Lady Salsa and The Mysteries, have gone so far?
Yeah. The Mysteries is the most exciting thing I'ver ever done. It was the most unlikely success as it was 40 untrained South African actors doing a version of the stories of the bible in foriegn languages like Zulu and Afrikaans and it became the most talked about show of the year. So it was an extraodinary success story and I'm enormously proud of it and enjoyed putting it together.
Did this give you the confidence to go out an limb more?
It did to a certain extent, but what you've got to remember is that you are only as good as your last show, so you have to be careful. I promise you some of the ideas I come up with are just awful, so you must not get too confident as these things have a habit of turning round and biting you.
Away from your musicals work I understand you produced this year's Olivier Awards as well?
I did yes. In fact I enjoyed it so much I'm doing next year's as well. Kevin Spacey sang to Judi Dench and we just had a great big party. It is a big workload to undertake but it is a really worthwhile. It's great for the whole office to focus on something else for a few weeks, dealing with new people. It was nice to have a welcome distraction as well, that's why I've agreed to do it next year as well, for the excitement that it brings.
Fame the Musical is on at The Lowry from Friday, August 20 - Saturday, August 28. Tickets Â£14 - Â£26.50. Call the Box office on 0870 7875793 or click here to book online.
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