By Marcia K. Weiss
"I'm gonna live forever ... baby, remember my name."
Such is the sentiment in the title song of the musical by the same name, "Fame", which opened Tuesday night in Illinois Wesleyan University's Jerome Mirza Theatre.
Based on the 1980 film, which went on to become a hit TV series running from 1982 to 1987, "Fame: The Musical" has been performed by both amateurs and professionals all over the world.
David De Silva developed this pop culture icon focusing on the aspirations of ambitious students attending New York City's High School of the Performing Arts, who dream of becoming professional dancers, actors and musicians.
With superb direction by Jean Kerr and impeccable choreography by Sheri Marley, IWU's "Fame" is the perfect showcase for its gifted ensemble.
Starting out as starry-eyed freshman in "Hard Work," the young students assert themselves.
There's Nick, played by Conor Finnerty-Esmonde with earnestness, a bona fide professional actor who has already landed some commercials.
This impresses Serena, portrayed by Emily Hardesty. She has a major crush on Nick, and in "Let's Play a Love Scene," Hardesty knocks it out of the park.
Juna Shai, playing Carmen, is rebellious and sultry as the student who won't conform to the school's demands for self-discipline, and she makes the dubious decision to drop out of school.
Another student having difficulty is Jack, who as a senior in high school still can't read and struggles academically.
Jack does persevere and hangs on to eventually graduate. This is largely due to the efforts of his English teacher, Miss Sherman, played with devotion by Jenia Head.
Evan Dolan plays Jack, whose passion is dance. The ballet duet between Dolan and Jessica Smith as Iris is breathtaking, and worth the price of admission.
As the musical comes to a close, there are some lighter moments, such as when Haley Miller, hilarious and endearing as the voluptuous Mabel, pleads that she will not be the heaviest dancer in the world in "Mabel's Prayer."
Dynamic, nostalgic, poignant and fun, "Fame: The Musical" is a powerhouse that audiences are sure to enjoy, leaving the theater humming the theme song.
Weiss is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.
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