School's letting out everywhere except at the North Shore Music Theatre. In Beverly, the exhilarating "Fame the Musical" is the second offering for the theater-in-the-round's 50th season. The youthful story of talented youngsters who audition successfully for New York's renowned High School of the Performing Arts is lightweight fare but with its emotional moments too.
The aspirations of these young people resonate in the lyrics of title song from the show: "I can catch the moon in my hand. Don't you know who I am? Remember my name. Fame! I'm gonna live forever. I'm gonna learn how to fly - high!"
As the story about how the youngsters respond to the exacting arts curriculum unfolds, you see that some of them do seem destined for stardom while, painfully, others fall victim to some harsh realities of the fringes of show business life.
Of the African Americans in the cast, Eric Anthony plays the dance wiz with élan; Krystle N. Pyram is hilarious as the slightly overweight Mabel Washington who despairs of losing those pounds her dance teacher demands go; and Inga Ballard, who has a thrilling voice, plays with genuine feeling the exacting teacher whose maternal instincts make her stricter than the teacher who doesn't care.
Gerard Salvador really is a graduate of the High School of Performing Arts and plays with zest the urban youth who feels awkward in the classical stage role he's asked to perform.
You may recall the movie or even more likely the TV series starring Debbie Allen which in the 80s was one of the few programs with a truly diverse cast.
A story about teens from all ethnic backgrounds with a burning desire to make it in the arts is just the sort of show the top flight NSMT excels at. While located in a suburb with a small population of people of color, in 2003, NSMT was awarded the Rosetta LaNoire Award. Named for the famed black theatrical actress, the prestigious citation is given for expressing "universality of the human experience in the American Musical Theatre" NSMT has consistently cast theater artists of color and employed them as directors and in the other backstage positions.
As well, the Equity company has its own school, Youth Performance Academy, which puts on three of the children's shows NSMT also stages. Many of the ensemble for "Fame" have been in the academy, such as Presilah Mercedes Nunez who played the princess in last summer's "Disney's Aladdin Junior," a try-out for a future Disney production. Also one of the lively support players is Melody Oleson.
"Fame" at NSMT, where you get caught up in the teens's lives, is not unlike a school reunion where for a few hours you magically transform back into that so very young person you once were.
Planet North Shore
"Fame" is a rollicking, dancing, singing, frolicking, winsome, romantic, soulful peek into a four year high school metamorphosis of class of 1984 students at the New York High School for the Performing Arts, called "PA" by the students. As in most adolescent journeys from freshmen to seniors, plenty of angst, fear, romance, self - doubt, defiance, teacher guidance and ultimately, self-confidence is portrayed onstage at the North Shore Music Theatre's second show of the 2005 season. Do yourself a big favor - get a touch of "Fame", and bring the kids. "Fame" began life as an Academy Award winning movie, and then became an Emmy Award winning television series, and then a musical, created by David DeSilva, Jose Fernandez, Jacque Levy and Steve Margoshes.
In an ensemble show of this type, it's almost irreverent to pick out superlative performers because the 32 member cast is fantastic, a seamless blend of top-notch dance, singing, acting and comedy. The Muses are smiling! If you are having trouble sleeping since "American Idol" ended, have no fear. A night at "Fame" will help. Actually, it might even identify how the "Idol" contenders followed their passions, dreams and worked their butts off to become so talented. "Fame" shows the grit, determination, hard work, and guidance from teachers and fellow students that give hopefuls a chance of fulfilling performance destinies.
Act One opens on a bare stage, with a bright red-orange fire escape (it's in NYC, remember) on one side of the stage, and an arch overhead on the other. Except for some red-orange painted bridge chairs, this musical employs hardly any other set pieces. The director & choreographer, Richard Stafford, employs fast-paced action, movement and lighting to jazz up this show. Dancing is actually one of the "stars" of the musical, and I had trouble keeping my feet from clickety-clacking along with the onstage performers.
Tyrone, played by Eric Anthony, is a rough-edged dancer with an attitude of defiance and one of the "shining promises" of the class. Although he wants to quit the doubly rigorous academic performing arts school, his teachers push and pull him back. Miss Sherman, played by Inga Ballard, seems a hard-nosed English teacher pushing academics over performance as she wants to be sure these kids will have a full education, for most will not be able to support themselves in the arts and will need their diplomas. Her soulful "These Are My Children" in Act II reveals her feelings. She and Miss Bell (played by Rosemary Loar) ultimately get the kids through. Miss Bell is the favorite teacher who always takes the kids' sides, even tangling with the academics to push performance. Several subplots rivet your attention. Carmen Diaz (Lynnette Marrero), one of the most talented in the PA, is whisked off to Los Angeles in spite of Scholomos (Dennis Moench) attempting to get her to stay. Their duet "Bring on Tomorrow" is one of the show's most poignant moments. "Tyrone's Rap" is a dazzling exhibition of Tyrone's dance and choreography ability in Act I that brought the audience to a rousing round of applause. Likewise, Serena (Jenna Gavigan) singing "Think of Meryl Streep" is her inspiration to a better performance. The witty song is typical of the show's music.
The only problem with this show is that it's too good! I wanted it to last longer, sing more, and dance more. When it ended on opening night, I couldn't believe it because the night just flew by.
The Edge Boston
When I decided to review the North Shore Music Theatre's production of "Fame," I wondered how the theatre would pull it off. The 1980 movie, produced by David DeSilva, is a fictional depiction of one class at the New York City High School of Performing Arts from audition to graduation. It is one thing to cover four-years of adolescent driven hopes, dreams and angst, fueled by intense competition on film, but I couldn't picture how it would play out in a two-hour stage production.
When I walked into the theatre, I knew I was in for a treat. Director/choreographer Richard Stafford brilliantly utilized the North Shore Music Theatre's in the round format. As attendees filtered to their seats, various cast members, with numbers pinned on their shirts, were stationed in the audience: a vocalist sang warm-up exercises, a flutist practiced her scales, and an actor practiced a monologue. On-stage, dancers stretched, a pianist practiced, two actors rehearsed their lines. Combining the buzz and excitement of anticipating a live show, with the energy, hope and nervousness around auditions, made the setting immediate and real, starting the show before it started.
The opening song "Pray I Make PA," sung by a group of teens nervously tearing at envelopes, followed perfectly. From there the audience meets the teachers and stories unfold. Romances, friendships, collaborations and mentor/student relationships, begin to develop and collide. As the cast breathed life into the ambitious, talented and hormone driven "Fame" teens, and their well-meaning mentors, I was delighted.
At that point, I put my pen down and stopped taking notes. I didn't want miss anything. I wanted to know if rapper/break-dancer/choreographer Tyrone Jackson (Eric Anthony) would pair up with over-achiever, snobby, rich ballerina Iris Kelly (Kathleen Nanni.) I identified with singer/dancer/songwriter Carmen Diaz's (Lynnette Marrero) impatience to become famous. I felt English teacher Miss Ester Sherman's (Inga
Ballard) frustrations as she stressed the importance of academics to her uninterested students. I empathized with dance instructor Ms. Greta Ball who recalled that as a young dancer, she once had big dreams.
The age-old themes and conflicts between the rich and poor, youth and age, idealist and realist, arts and academics are all explored and carried through by the well-written and funny script, and high energy performances. The Equity Association cast members were all great actors, but Inga Ballard, as Ester Sherman, stood out. In fact, when she was on-stage, I forgot that she wasn't the tough-minded English teacher and disciplinarian. Not only did the songs and dances spur the story lines forward--as they are meant too, but the brightly colored pink, purple, blue and orange costumes, made the choreography visually beautiful and vibrant. The theatre's cast and crew didn't just pull-off "Fame," they immediately sucked me in and, made me forget I was there as a reviewer. I enjoyed the ride so much, I would go back and see it again. The only disappointment in this musical was the intermission.
FAME review Theater Mirror
The current show at North Shore Music Theatre is "Fame" which began as an Academy Award winning movie in 1980. Then it became an Emmy Award winning TV series and finally, an international musical theater production. The show follows a group of gifted students through four grueling, exhilarating years at New York City's High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street from 1980 to 1984. The Class of ' 84 was the last class to graduate from that landmark building before moving to Lincoln Center as LaGuardia High School. Director and choreographer Richard Stafford takes his 32 member cast and makes this musical into exuberant, energetic spectacle that captivates the audience from the opening group numbers "Pray I Make P.A." and "Hard Work" ( the first is about how these kids want to get accepted at the Performing Arts School and the latter is about whether acting, dancing or music is the really the hardest course in the school) to the closing poignant number "Bring On Tomorrow" at the 1984 graduation.
This sensational show is a perfect blend of comic and dramatic moments in the lives of high school students and teachers and these performers pull it off without a hitch.
Richard casts the students in this show wonderfully by having them really high school students or close enough so they don't look too old for the roles and also casts four strong actors as the teachers His blocking and choreography is superb and includes ballet, modern and jazz. The energy is contagious and makes you want to jump out of your seat to join the cast onstage. Richard uses 12 youngarea performers in the show to dance with the equity performers. ( I met two of them, Presilah Nunez and Alex Deleo, before the show and they are currently cramming for their finals while the show is running.) Music director and conductor Andrew Graham gets the best sound of the cast and orchestra making the numbers soar with their intensity and power. The scenic design by Howard Jones, the colorful costumes by Joanna Murphy, lighting design by David Neville and sound design by John Stone are all done excellently and help add the finishing touches to this splendid show.
The teachers in the show are played by Inga Ballard, Michael Brian Dunn, Rosemary Loar and Rex Hays. Inga is dynamite as Miss Sherman, the English teacher who is very strict with her students. She has fabulous stage presence and gets to show off her powerful singing voice in a gorgeous ballad called "These Are My Children" where she shows how much she really cares about the kids while disciplining them. Inga belts out this song beautifully with great emotion and she and Rosemary as Miss Bell, the dance teacher do a superb job on "The Teacher's Argument" concerning a student who can't read but dances perfectly. Their argument is are artists special or are all people special? Michael plays Mr. Myers the acting teacher who wants the students to show their inner beings to each other and wants them to grow into their roles. Rex plays the strict music teacher, Mr. Sheinkopf who leads the students in their chorus numbers before each class year and scolds his music students for playing their own music instead of Mozart.
The acting students Nick, Serena and Jose are played by Jonathan Groff, Jenna Gavigan and Gerard Salvador. Jonathan plays Nick who has appeared in commercials as a child but wants to really learn about acting. He gets to show off his strong tenor voice in "I Want to Make Magic". Jenna plays the girl who has crush on Nick all four years of school. Her beautiful soprano voice is utilized fully in the lovely ballad, "Let's Play a Love Scene" and in the belty ballad "Think of Meryl Streep" after she gets cast as Juliet. Gerard plays the cocky Jose who adopts Joe Vegas as his persona. He handles a lot of comic moments in the show and is especially funny as Romeo from the Bronx.
The dancing students Carmen, Tyrone, Iris and Mabel are played by Lynette Marrero, Eric Anthony, Kathleen Nanni and Krystle Pyram .
Lynette, a triple threat performer, is fantastic as Carmen, a girl who will do anything to make it in show biz. She gets to sing the title number and brings down the house in the first act and in the second sings a song of desperation called "In L.A." when she returns to NYC after being used and dumped by a producer in California. Eric as Tyrone, is the illiterate student who has a fifth grade reading level and also has a chip on his shoulder. Tyrone falls in love with the prima ballerina, Iris, and finally he realizes he needs to repeat his senior year and get a good education. Eric's two numbers are "Tyrone's Rap" which displays the anger of the character (he and four dancers use a mirror in this song) and "Dancin on the Sidewalk" which displays his love of dancing after a big argument with Miss Sherman where his classmates reject him for his bad behavior. Kathleen gets to show off her dancing expertise in the ballet segments and in the Pas de Deux dance with Eric. Krystle is outstanding as Mabel who loves to eat. She majors in dance and finally realizes she has to starve herself too much and decides to switch her major to acting. Her gospel number called "Mabel's Prayer" is done with great feeling and brings down the house withher comic antics.
The three musicians, Schlomo, Grace and Goodman are played by Dennis Moench, Ambere Rogers and Warren Freeman. Dennis does an excellent job as the nerdy violinist who falls in love with Carmen after they write "Bring On Tomorrow". His disappoint when She leaves him to go to LA is heartfelt and he tugs at your heartstrings when he tells the graduation audience their song is dedicated to Carmen's memory.
Dennis' violin playing during this song brought many tears to many eyes in the audience. Ambere does a great job as the tomboy drummer and Warren is very funny as the nerdy trumpet playing member of their band. Kudos to the whole cast on a job well done. So for an evening of energetic magic, be sure to catch "Fame" at North Shore Music Theatre before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.
"Fame" (31 May - 19 June)
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