By Andrea Drobna
Following the lives of students at a New York performing arts high school, the 1980s film Fame tackled heavy issues such as eating disorders, sexuality and the pressure of life in the spotlight. After initially receiving mixed reviews, the film was highly praised and quickly earnt two Academy Awards (Best Original Song and Best Original Score) as well as a Golden Globe (Best Original song). Soon after, the Fame franchise was born, with plans for a TV series spin-off and a stage musical just around the corner.
Fast forward to 2018, and Fame the musical is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a UK-wide tour, featuring stars such Keith Jack (lead in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat) and Jorgie Porter (Hollyoaks). With such a stacked cast and a celebratory tour, I had high expectations for the musical. After the first half, however, not all my expectations were met.
The show started off quite abruptly, showcasing the student auditions for a spot at the prestigious performing arts high school. Throughout the number, the audience saw the various auditions, including selected students who were awarded a place at the school. With quite an unexpected start, and improper introductions to the characters, the opening number left me a bit confused, but nevertheless intrigued.
Within the first half of the show, eight of the main characters and their background stories were introduced, showcasing the student’s struggles during freshman and sophomore year. Some of the main themes were weight loss, drug addiction, and learning difficulties, to name a few. However, while the transitions between songs and the shifts in focus between each of the characters were very smooth, there were too many story lines to follow in such a short amount of time. I feel that it may have been better to emphasise two or three characters stories instead.
Above all though, I was impressed by the actors’ ability to address important issues without overusing dialogue. Often dialogue in musicals can feel purely like filler between songs, but everything said in Fame was clear and concise and had a purpose for the audience. Most of the musical numbers also incorporated live instruments like the piano and trumpet, which I loved and added an extra emphasis to the atmosphere of the play.
Without a doubt though, my favourite number was ‘The Teachers’ Argument’; this showcased a disagreement between one teacher who allowed her students to focus on the arts rather than standard school work, while the other stood by the importance of academics, even in a performing arts high school. This was a very powerful number, and I wish that there had been a focus on this more throughout the whole musical.
The second half of the musical was much better than the first, wrapping up the students’ junior and senior year, rounding everything off with a final number at the student’s graduation. Actress Stephanie Rojas (Carmen) shone during the second half, with a phenomenal performance of ‘In L.A.’, really emphasising the downfalls of the talent industry. The, after the final bow the cast came back out to perform a live rendition of the song Fame, coaxing the audience up on their feet and into singing. Overall, I was pleased with the end of the musical, and the atmosphere that the cast created in the theater.
With phenomenal dance numbers and exceptional singing, Fame is a very entertaining show to watch. However, it was definitely let down by certain elements of the performance.