FAME - THE MUSICAL
A vintage steamroller would have revved into life quicker than the opening night performance of Fame - The Musical at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford.
Your reviewer fidgeted and fiddled around for most of Act I, wondering when the energy the show is renowned for was going to starting flowing. Fortunately things did improve - but Fame ultimately failed to live up to the pre-show hype.
Set in and around the New York High School of Performing Arts between 1980 and 1984, the musical follows the same storyline - if you can call it that - as Alan Parker’s well-known film. After a new crop of students make it into ‘PA’, the production charts their highs and lows, as they bid to graduate and become famous. And, er, that’s about it.
Of course, what this stage production of Fame is really all about is powerhouse vocals and red hot dance routines. But boy, it certainly takes some time to get into its stride.
After a few half-decent musical numbers and a tedious ballad called ‘I Want To Make Magic’, it’s a blessed relief when sleazy Spanish student Joe Vegas (Ben Heathcote) takes centre stage. Up until this point, the audience is denied any chance to really warm to any of the characters - one of the reasons the opening scenes are such a struggle. Thankfully, Heathcote gives proceedings a shot in the arm with the cheeky ‘Can’t Keep It Down’, demonstrating a cracking voice into the bargain.
From here the production picks up somewhat, as you are introduced to the slightly dippy Serena (Julie Atherton) and illiterate black kid Tyrone (Chris Copeland), whose rap number is even cheesier than a deep pan parmesan pizza with extra mozzarella.
There’s also the sexy and sassy Carmen Diaz, dripping with attitude, and played masterfully by Debbie Kurup. Her rendition of ‘There She Goes / Fame’, accompanied by the other students, is one of the more memorable moments of the first Act. The numbers ‘Mabel’s Prayer’ and ‘These Are My Children’ - a superb solo effort by Melanie La Barrie, who plays teacher Miss Sherman - grab the attention after the interval. And anyone who goes to this production should also look out for the excellent Copeland strutting his stuff in the show-stopping ‘Dancin’ On The Sidewalk’.
But as impressive as all the prancing, dancing and singing is, Fame falls a long way short of being a great musical. And if you’re expecting to sing along with the songs from the film, you will be very disappointed. For this stage production, new music and lyrics were composed, although thankfully the title song has been left in.
The lack of a serious plot to get your teeth is a big problem, and you feel very little empathy with the characters and care little about what happens to them, because it’s all just peripheral to the music and movement. Even when one of the characters dies of a drugs overdose, you don’t feel that bothered.
Even though Fame is well choreographed by Karen Bruce, the production never quite hits the spectacular heights you’re hoping for - until the very end. After the upbeat musical numbers finish, the pace and excitement tends to drain away, and everything goes rather flat. Here lies the problem with not having a credible storyline.
It must also be commented that the drab scenery does little to capture the energy and joie de vivre of the legendary ‘Fame School’ , and the fact some characters’ faces are half in shadow when singing is very puzzling, not to mention annoying.
On the night, the sizeable and predominantly young audience at The Alhambra seemed to really enjoy Fame. But in my opinion, it’s not really worth making a big song and dance over.
Copyright J A Waddington 2002. For syndication rights, please email.
09 December 2002 To 14 December
16 December 2002 To 21 December