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Home > Past Buzz > ‘Fame’ - The Musical at the Pantages Theater

December 2, 1999

By Les Spindle

More nimble than footloose and almost as slick as Grease, the new touring edition of Fame - The Musical generates enough energy to light up Hollywood Boulevard and then some. Unlike the harder-edged 198 Alan Parker film from which it originated, this Fame lite version aims to do little more than allow a talented cast to strut their stuff in a succession of exuberant production numbers. Under the electric direction of Lars Bethke (based on David De Silva's concepts), that proves to be more than enough The show is composed of equal parts MTV splash and Broadway pizzazz, with both parts firing on all cylinders.

The pulsating pop\rock score by Steve Margoshes (music) and Jacques Levy (lyrics) is well served by Bethke's dazzling choreography, Jo Lynn Burks' fine musical direction, and the vibrant orchestrations of Margoshes and Harold Wheeler. (The only song included form the film is the title tune by Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore.) Indeed, the musical elements of the show are so satisfying that Jose Fernandez's thin book seems almost beside the point. The story integrates a series of disparate plot strands, charting the ups and downs of a group of fresh-faced youths attending New York City;'s High School of Performing Arts between 1980 and 1984. The early scenes suggest Chorus Line redux, as the nervous school applicants sing about their anxieties, and a sardonic Latino youth (the delightful Jose Restrepo) delivers a racy ditty about youthful hormones. But the show quickly hits it own stride, thanks to a colorful array of likable characters and sublime musical sequences.

The most engaging performance in a universally accomplished ensemble is Sheri Sanders' humorous and touching turn as Serena, the plain but spunky school wallflower, setting her sights - against all odds - on the serious-minded actor-to-be Nick ( the charming Darren Ritchie), whom she fears might be gay. She shines in her comic moments and mesmerizes in her tour-de-force solo number, "Think of Meryl Streep." Other standouts include Nastasha Neary as a restless and reckless Latina singer over anxious to make her way to the top, and the hilarious Catrice Joseph as an overweight student who eloquently belts out "Mabel's Prayer,: a soulful plea for divinely inspired will power. The production is also visually arresting. Norbert U. Kolb's versatile, multi-leveled schoolhouse set is impressive, and Richard Winkler's sharp, multi-hued lighting effects add to the excitement.

Early in Act One, the rousing song "I Want to Make Magic" is tellingly introduced, and the company proceeds to fulfill the promise of those lyrics throughout the course of a tuneful and utterly beguiling evening.

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