FAME the musical is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh for one week only (Tue 23 to Sat 27 Oct) and bringing a little bit of not only the hopes and dreams of the students of The New York High School for The Performing Arts for the class of 1984 to life on stage, but probably the dreams of every stage performance school in every city that it has played to date worldwide over the years.
FAME the stage show was conceived and developed by “The Father of Fame”, David De Silva, and with the book by Jose Fernandez, music by Steve Margoshes and lyrics by Jacques Levy, this production wisely stays in the original 1980s time frame of the movie (1980) and television series (1982 – 1987), allowing it to more than capture the feeling and atmosphere of both.
Stage adaptations of film and television projects are often doomed to be shadows at best of their original concepts or, at worst, complete failures. This production is one of the exceptions and a big part of that has to go down to the script. Although I remember the original film, my main memories of FAME are from the television series, and obviously not having the luxury of time to develop characters over a season’s run, the script very quickly introduces all the main performers and develops them as individuals through relationships and sub-plots for us to start to care about them as an audience. Add in to that some good songs and a talented and energetic young cast, and you are set for a feel-good night out at the theatre.
The show is not perfect, but it is very good and our core cast do a very good job here with some great stage show songs. Over the years though, time can take its toll on some things, and as a character, Tyrone (Jamal Crawford) possibly suffers more than most in the class, as the disadvantaged black youth from a poor neighbourhood with a talent to dance but real issues with basic reading and writing has been done so many times now that the idea borders a little on stereo-typing, particularly when we add in the rap music and street dance moves, but the character is such an integral part of the FAME story that there is no getting away from this portrayal, and it is, we have to remember, of its period. One slight issue I do have with the story line though is the “see food” diet of dancer Mabel (Hayley Johnston). Although this is entirely true to the original movie storyline, our thoughts on body image have changed over the decades and perhaps here a more positive body promotion image, particularly for the many young girls and boys who will go to this show, is now needed; FAME is after all about reaching for your goals, achieving your full potential and following your dreams.
There are some very nice little sub stories running through this show and some good dance routines, and that “make the dancers look like they are beginners” at the start of the show is a very difficult job for any trained dancer to pull off well. Stephanie Rojas as Carmen has without doubt one of the strongest and most identifiable roles here and does a very good job both on the musical and dramatic sides to her role. Oddly enough though, for me, the ensemble “Latin Dance” section just never worked that well.
Weaving in and out of our main story lines are love stories that do come true, love stories that don’t come true, and a reminder that not everyone finds that star that they are looking for and can pay a high price for their quest.
There does seem to be a liking these days for modern stage schools to be following the reality television contest route of producing “shouty vocalists” no matter what the emotions of the song require, and that was all too evident on a few songs here. This is a young cast though and time hopefully will teach some of them that volume (particularly with a microphone so close to your mouth) is often less important than the emotion behind the words of a song. If any need reminded of that though then Mica Paris performing “These Are My Children” is as good a place as any to start the lesson with. If you are of an age not to remember classic songs like “My One Temptation” and “Breathe Life Into Me”, then Google the recording career of Mica Paris, one of the best British soul/R&B/Jazz singers of her generation.
Talking of songs, despite the stage show song-book there of course is no getting away from the original FAME theme song sung by Irene Cara. The stage might not have space for dancing on the top of New York yellow taxi cabs, but they are still there on stage, just look for them.
I am sure that no one will object if I dedicate this review to the all too soon gone from this world Gene Anthony Ray (b 1962 – d 2003) who played Leroy in the original film and television series. His portrayal of Leroy was always one of my favourites.
Main Cast- Fame The Musical
Mica Paris- Miss Sherman
Jorgie Porter –Iris
Jamal Kane Crawford – Tyrone
Serena Stephanie Rojas - Carmen
Keith Jack - Nick
Molly McGuire –Serena
Hayley Johnston -Mabel
Albey Brookes -Joe
Simon Anthony –Schlomo
Graham Hoadly -Mr Scheinkopf
Graham Hoadly =Mr Scheinkopf
Katie Warsop -Miss Bell
Review by Tom King