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FAME FOREVER- Talent Springs Eternal

Preview by Jaz Dorsey- Dramaturg & Critic ( Nashville )

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Art is the DNA of species memory"

Here's the thing about that term "community theatre"   - it depends a whole lot on the "community" you're talking about.

Nashville being first and foremost about talent, it's not surprising that Circle Players, Nashville 's oldest "community" theatre, never fails to astound us with productions which are as fine as any in our community.

And in a culture and economy where most theatre companies are lucky to hang on for six years, it seems apropos that Circle is kicking off it's 61st season with the South East premiere of FAME FOREVER:TALENT SPRINGS ETERNAL - David De Silva's vibrant tribute to the endurance of talent as a driving force in our lives -  with the blessings of the author, who is also in town for tonight's opening - "in town" in this case being Murfreesboro , in the impressive Tucker Theatre on the MTSU campus.

The premise of FAME FOREVER is the 20th reunion of the original cast of FAME fame , which includes the ghost (or angel) of the character of Carmen, who has been brought back to experience her legacy as it resonates through the years to the current class of students at the High School of the Performing Arts and on from there to yet another generation. The plot reunites the characters from the original story as it continues to explore and resolve the relationships which began when they were students.

With a cast of 39,   directed by Tim Larson and choreographed by Kate Adams-Johnson, the production is a wonderful success, funny and touching, filled with fine musical numbers and an engaging plot which is not without it's surprises. A special hat's off has to go to Cat Arnold, who is responsible for designing and coordinating all those costumes - quite a task and quite an accomplishment. Accolades also to Jim Manning and his team for the awesome "metropolitan' panorama which provides the backdrop to his simple but functional set.

The story itself involves a number of subplots which unfold over the course of the evening, opening with the spirit of Carmen (Faith Kelm ) and her angelic guide, Michael (Caleb Reynolds). Reynolds does a nice job with Michael and Kelm tackles the role of Carmen with superstar power, ending the show with a stunning version of the original theme song.

These two spirits oversee events at the school which fuse the antics of the current class with the plans for the 20th reunion of the "class of 84." As the staff and faculty of the school, Jamie London , Cat Arnold and Dominique Howse are charmingly befuddled as they try to juggle the egos of their students past and present. The current crop of students include Georgia (Tyler Clark Kennedy Samuel) and Vanessa (Mallory Gleason) - two aspiring young actresses who vie both for the role of Maria in West Side Story and for the affections of JJ (Daniel Collins), the dashing young leading man who is playing Tony. Collins is appealing in a cocky way and Gleason effectively navigates the somewhat bi-polar Vanessa, whose diva- esque strutting hides a dark and scary secret. Samuel is sweet and vulnerable as Georgia and her rendition of the Habanera is one of the evening's showstoppers.

David Arnold and LaToya Gardner, as Vanessa's father and Georgia 's mother, are a couple of quirky parents who have channeled their own ambitions into their childrens ' lives. In Act 2, Gardner delivers a stunning acapella version of the song "The Miracle is Me "

Conflict on the alumnae level takes the form of another love triangle, as two dancers, Iris and Chantelle , get all worked up over rising young choreographer Tyrone Jackson. One of the production's real treats is the opportunity to see Nashville 's premiere choreographer, Kate Adams-Johnson, onstage, showing us that she can act and sing as well as dance. Max Desire is debonaire and gentlemanly as Tyrone and Kathryn Clubb's Chantelle is a woman to be reckoned with. Their manage -a trois tango is the show's comic highlight.

Rounding out the principles are Trey Palmer as the career obsessed Hollywood actor Nick, Randy Croft as Schlomo Metzenbaum , a successful songwriter who has carried his love for the deceased Carmen through the years, and young Jack Williams as Venessa's son Alex, who closes the show with a rap version of the FAME theme song. The role of Alex is double cast with another young actor, Eric Williams.

The principals are backed up by a swell ensemble of 22 young and talented Nashville actors.

FAME FOREVER is a great evening of theatre, but beyond that it is also an anthem for our community, a community of artists whose dreams are kept alive by the belief that talent does, in fact, spring eternal.



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