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Canada Review

Fame - the musical, renowned first as a smash-hit motion picture, then a long-running television series, dances its way back to Toronto for a two week run at the Pantages Theatre.

Brought in by SFX Theatrical Group as part of their Best of Broadway series at the Pantages Theatre for 2001, the red-hot, energy-charged musical featured 31 dynamic performers.  Conceived by David De Silva, book by Jose Fernandez, lyrics by Jacques Levy and music by Steve Margoshes, with direction and choreography by Christopher Bond - Fame focuses on the hopes and dreams of a group of students attending New York's High School of Performing Arts (now known as the Fiorelle La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts) on West 46 th Street.  It entails the events in the lives of its students on their four-year journey from auditions to graduation.  From all walks of life – rich, poor, black, white – it is the underlining factor that gives the story its passion and dramatic tensions.

Sure, many agree that the story may never be more true today, after all the eighties teenage idealism was far less complicated than the new generation.  But one thinks that some still holds true.  One important factor is the musical's youthful vigour, those raging hormones, that blast of energy that exudes from the cast that gives each member an excuse to burst into a song and, of course, dance!  Most definitely, the strength of the show is its players – a young cast most on their first big theatrical, or touring production.

First we have Nick Piazza, played by Christopher J. Hanke, the dedicated actor who at first seemed confused about his sexuality but in the end finds his true love.  Christopher did a wonderful rendition of “I Want To Make Magic” – certainly describes the passion each actor in us wants to be. 

And then, there's the sex crazed class clown, Joe “Jose” Vegas, played by Jose Restrepo.  Obviously not a dancer (he is always shoved to the back for dance numbers), he makes up for everything with how natural he is as a comedian.  Certainly, we can see how he can easily infuriates his teachers, but you can't really let him get to you. He is far too funny that all you can do is let it pass and make light of it.

Then we have the tough girl who just wants to be famous – Carmen Diaz played by Caren Lyn Manuel.  At first she seemed as if she was just another cast member on stage but Ms. Manuel really made the audience take one more look at her in the second act with her rendition of “In L.A.”  She proved her star quality with this song, and the audience agreed.

Another one to note was Jennifer Gambatese who played Serena Katz – the nerdy actress who grew up before our eyes.  From the beginning to the end, she pulled all the stops with her numbers.  A great powerful voice and such presence on stage, she has the making of a good future in the world of musical theatre.

But the ultimate show stopper, I thought, was the short, fat girl desperately trying to make it as a dancer Mabel Washington played by Wandah Kelly.  She surprised the crowd with one delightful, spine-tingling gospel number about dying for something to eat.  Words can't describe her performance.  You just had to be there!

All in all, it was a very entertaining evening.  It was bursting with energy with every song and, most notably, dance, and a good collection of talented cast members. 

by Aristotle Domingo, Online Canadian Correspondent, April 2001



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