Review: Lana Harris
The general rule is that you can recycle a trend around about every thirty years. The late ‘90s saw the return of super flared jeans and platform shoes adapted from their 1970’s incarnations, and the final years of the 2000-2010’s saw 1980’s revivals turning everything fluro again, including ruched skirts and the accessories holding big hair in check. As the wardrobes of many of the theatregoers tonight attested, the 80’s success Fame: The Musical is ripe for a comeback. Bucking usual trends, Fame (the movie) actually came out first, then a TV series, and then the musical, and it’s worth noting that the story is not the same as the movie.
The storylines of Fame: The Musical revolve around a group of teenagers who have enrolled at PA (performing arts) High, following them as they grow through four years of dance, song, sweat and hormones. As you could expect from a multi character musical production which covers four years in two hours, characterisation is pretty light on – but to expect depth of personality from a show entitled Fame is to miss the point. Main character Carmen Diaz is the most messed up and (probably not coincidentally) fame obsessed character, although drama outside the acting classes ensues for the entire cast. Treatment of the issues they face bears a time dated stamp – coke addiction would give way to the dangers of meth in today’s world, and the teen with eating issues would probably be dealt a much harsher hand. But as the recent success of TV show Glee has shown us, teenagers singing their way through crises on the way to growing up and discovering who they are can be entertaining no matter the decade. The packed out Lyric theatre and its wide ranging patrons (from 8 year olds with their mum through to retired couples and all ages in between) shows we’re all equally fascinated by teen angst when legwarmers are involved.
We’re introduced to the action through a bare classroom corridor set and the whole of company song ‘Pray I Make PA’, performed in the reverential manner you’d expect from the title before the performers slam at an alarming speed into full cast choreographed dance action for the second number, ‘Hard Work’. Timomatic (who made it to the top ten in the 2009 So You Think You Can Dance series), playing Tyrone Jackson, quickly sets himself apart from the rest of the cast with his impeccable footwork. His dance moves are fully extended and he could stop on a five cent coin after flying through the air. As the drama starts up, Timomatic exploits the physical comedy elements of his role, as does Sam Ludeman (who plays the testosterone fuelled Joe Vegas). Both men get the audience laughing early with their candid manoeuvres.
The theme song calls in all the cast to support the lead vocalist loudly and brashly, and the song is handled relatively well by Rowena Vilar as Carmen Diaz. But the stand out female performers are the dance teacher Ms Greta Bell and English teacher Miss Esther Sherman (Rebecca Jackson Mendoza and Darlene Love). An argument-through-song between the two women closes the first act, and the power and strength of their voices powers out across the whole theatre, captivating the audience. Love’s vocals in particular are a wonderful example of the power of voice, invoking emotion and embodying drama throughout the song. Her warm, resonant tones were the highlight of the solos performed tonight.
The second half of the show brings with it a seemingly altered audio mix. There are parts where the drum sounds of the live orchestra were rock concert loud. Perhaps this was intended to match the heightened emotions of the second half, as the show becomes heavy with schmaltz towards the end. Fortunately there is respite in the all cast group choreography, which got better and better as the show progressed, culminating in a rehash of ‘Hard Work’ and ‘Fame’.
The dancing was the real star of Fame, the energetic performers conveying best the buzz of being young and having hopes and dreams. At the end of the show, that energy stays with you, and it’s carrying that feeling out of the theatre which will make post millennial viewers happy they went along.