Oct 4, 2006
Sarasota Players' 'Fame' is an upbeat triumph, not a tragedy
In the Players Theatre of Sarasota's current production of "Fame - the Musical," director Thomas Dewayne Barrett has Carmen (Jazmine Giovanni) return to the stage at the end of the show to revive her lead in the title number, singing, "I'm gonna live forever," as the entire cast shouts "Fame!" and dances around her.
After her death, presumably related to cocaine abuse, Carmen's triumphant proclamation might seem melancholic or cautionary or even downright tragic. The fact that the whole audience was at this point on its feet and mostly clapping in time with the song's beat leads me to think that this moment was in fact none of these things.
What it was, actually, was a celebration. And it is. Somehow this show about a group of students at a performing arts high school in New York City - despite the one character whose story involves leaving the school and venturing into the "real world" becoming jaded and addicted and dead - is optimistic. The zeal with which these kids insist that they're going to live forever is genuine, not ironic. Their tale is not a tragedy, but a triumph. With a dead girl leading the way.
What this means, I think, is that the celebration involves forgetting the tragedy, and the forgetting involves not being too choked up about it in the first place. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it also means that the show gets to eschew the desperation and subtlety of the actual lives people lead in favor of the glitz and glamour of a manufactured facade. In other words: fame.
The best thing about "Fame" is the vitality of the upbeat ensemble numbers, like "Hard Work" and "Fame," where everything seems fun and happy. But the more dramatic solo numbers, like, for instance, "I Want to Make Magic" or "These Are My Children," just feel boring.
All of the show's weight is packed into the exuberance of the optimistic, leaving the conflicted or downtrodden to flounder. While the ensemble pieces are energetic and packed with excellent choreography - also by Barrett - the soloists in the dramatic numbers are left to sink or swim without life preservers, often standing alone on the stage, motionless, singing to the crowd.
Several good performances are undermined in this way. Garie Jean Williams as Serena has a great voice, but is unfortunately given nothing to do in any of her numbers. Similarly Giovanni, Shane Ferreira (Nick) and Kwendel Lasha (Miss Sherman) are stranded, static on stage during emotional numbers. When Giovanni and Lasha, along with Alex Yepremian (Joe), Charles McKenzie (Tyrone) and Cynthia Ashford (Mabel), are put in the middle of an ensemble and given some choreography to work with, the results are very entertaining.
The staging is static, employing slight variations on a single set, but that set is a very interesting one: a ghostly, graffitied school hallway with two levels, so that action takes place both on the ground and above, on a balcony. The singer's voices were sometimes hard to hear over the instrumentation, and malfunctions in the sound system led to some missed lines and some discomfiting, though minimal, feedback. Use of some live instruments onstage to complement the orchestration added a clever dimension to the arts school feel.
The general experience of the play is one of excitement and positivity, punctuated by some slow, slightly incongruous periods of conflict. If you don't mind sitting through the latter, the former should have you on your feet and clapping along.
If you go
What: "Fame - The Musical"
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