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REVIEW: Fame the Musical – still lighting up the stage after 30 years
Venue: The Peacock Theatre
Performance Date: 12 September 2019
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Star Rating: ★★★★1/2
For 30 years Fame has been delighting audiences with its exuberant and energetic soundtrack, story and choreography. Based on the 1980 film of the same name, Fame the Musical, charts the journey of several students as they navigate the highs and lows of life at New York’s High School For The Performing Arts.
Conceived and developed by David De Silva (aka Father Fame), the show is celebrating its 30th year as it makes a triumphant return to the West End for a limited run before recommencing it’s UK tour in Leicester on October 21. Jose Fernandez’s book, Steve Margoshes music and Jacques Levy’s lyrics have been given a new lease of life in this slick, solid and perfectly polished 2019 production flawlessly directed and choreographed by Nick Winston.
Fame the Musical has enjoyed seven West End runs since opening on Broadway in 1988 and thanks to its iconic and Oscar-winning title song the show is arguably one of the best-loved musicals of all time. The current production pays homage to those which have come before it and the outstanding cast lift this bittersweet story to new levels. There is no shying away from the topics that made the original so gritty and somehow the themes of prejudice, identity, pride, literacy, sexuality and substance abuse feel so much more heightened and resonant today than ever before.
The cast is undeniably strong with several stand-out performances and there are no weak links in this incredibly professional and energetic production. The casting by Victoria Roe is inspired as each actor breathes a new and contemporary life into their respective characters. Keith Jack is solid and charming as the talented Nick Piazza and is complimented in droves by his wonderfully accomplished co-star Molly McGuire who puts in an endearing and powerful turn as the lovelorn Serena Katz.
Jorgie Porter shows off the dancing prowess that earned her second place on the 2012 series of Dancing On Ice. Porter delivers the role of Iris Kelly, with incredible poise and class demonstrating at every turn why she is the quintessential triple threat. Her relationship with the defensive Tyrone Jackson played by Jamal Kane Crawford is one of the highlights of the show. While Crawford isn’t as strong vocally as his colleagues, his dancing skills are off the charts and he showcases his talents during the energetic and high-tempo ‘Dancin’ on the Sidewalk’ making the intricate and complex choreography look effortless.
Resident Director Albey Brookes plays the self-loving Joe Vegas and brings the comedy and humour in abundance. His energy and cheekiness is infectious and he is a perfect fit for the role. Soul legend and vocal sensation Mica Paris brings sass and class to the strict Miss Sherman who, despite her gruff and tough exterior has her student’s best interests at heart as she strives to prepare them for life after school. Paris is an undeniable talent and lights up the stage whenever she’s on it. Her performance of the ballad ‘These Are My Children’ is a beautifully sung and a heartfelt contrast to the exuberance of ‘Dancin’ on the Sidewalk’ which immediately precedes it. Simon Anthony is a joy as Schlomo Metzimbalm and despite looking a touch too old to still be in full-time education he provides a beautifully nuanced performance as the multi-talented student with a point to prove.
Despite the combined strength of the cast, the show is well and truly stolen by Stephanie Rojas as Carmen Diaz, a pocket rocket powerhouse of a performer. Carmen is one of the most iconic female roles in musical theatre and Rojas more than makes it her own. She brings a palpable vulnerability to the character and does incredible work with Carmen’s arc which is the most complex of the piece. Carmen’s journey feels authentic, delicately handled and is delivered at a believable pace which is testament to Rojas’s commitment to the role. Her performance of Carmen’s emotional solo ‘In LA’ is both heartbreaking and harrowing in equal measure and is a poignant reminder that not all of us take the correct path or live to find fulfilment in our adult lives.
Somehow the production feels bigger and bolder on the West End stage with Morgan Large’s dynamic and well thought out design filling the stage and the space and multi-levels used simply yet effectively. Ben Harrison’s sound design ensures the numbers sound crisp and clear throughout, despite the odd scrunching microphone.
Tim Whiting leads a wonderfully accomplished band with several music majors playing on stage but it is the band backstage that lifts this iconic soundtrack to the next level making the most of that incredible sound design.
Fame is such a beloved musical that it deserves its place in the West End. The popularity of the show endures because of its relevance to today’s society. Even after 30 years, it is still possible to connect with the characters, to believe in their ups and downs, their heartbreak and their joy which is no mean feat. It also demonstrates why Fame is so incredibly multi-layered and nuanced as it wonderfully showcases the extreme highs and lows of trying to succeed and find your place in life. This is an effervescent, energetic and incredibly slick production that will delight audiences both old and new.
It’s safe to say that Fame the Musical will indeed live forever.
Runs Until 19 October then on tour.
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