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An anthem for talented youth.

16 Mar 2007

'FAME, I'm gonna live for ever; I'm gonna learn how to fly." Ever since 1980, when the parent film first appeared, the song has been one of the anthems of a time when ordinary ways of making progress in life began to get tougher, and celebrity - with all its trappings - began to look like the only way for young people to assert and secure their identity.

What's especially poignant about David De Silva's musical, though - playing this week in Edinburgh - is the way that it remains forever poised on the cusp between today's crazed celebrity culture and an earlier time when fame still seemed to have something to do with talent and a rare capacity for what one of the show's other key songs calls "hard work".

Born out of De Silva's love-affair with New York 's High School for the Performing Arts, Fame is in many ways a classic backstage musical, about a bunch of gifted kids struggling against various kinds of adversity to graduate into "the toughest profession in the world".

In foregrounding a whole class, rather than a single hero or heroine, the show sacrifices some narrative elegance and psychological depth. What it gains, though, is a huge charge of energy and a touching sense of the natural comradeship of a bunch of young people about to be thrown into the shark-infested waters of showbiz and, for all its rough edges, that wishful sweetness at the heart of the show still shines.

This time around, Adam Spiegel and Mark Goucher's British touring production seems in far more persuasive shape than when it was first launched a few years ago. The set - which pitches the main hall of the school against a background of New York tenements - is impressive. the acting from the 20-strong cast is strong enough to punch out the main points of the storyline, the band is excellent, and Karen Bruce's reworking of the original London production is tightly staged, with some of the big dance sequences radiating real physical artistry and power.

Like all shows based on a famous film, Fame inevitably attracts a slightly strange audience response, as if what the fans most want is not the live production itself, but the show's resemblance to the movie. In a very serious way, Fame on stage is a tribute piece for Fame the DVD.

Just here and there, though, a young performer steps into spotlight whose need for the live audience creates a spark of the new and, in the end, this spiky and thoroughly professional company turns the umpteenth British tour of Fame into a more than decent piece of live theatre.


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