by Adam Cohen
40 years ago, Fame hit the big screen. The film chronicled four years of students at Music & Art High School in New York. It spawned a television show and a theatrical incarnation – all of which preserve the anthemic title theme by Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore. Now it increasingly looks like Fame really might live forever. The stage musical is now online via BroadwayHD with an energetic 30th annual theatrical production. It follows the pupils as they’re taught to sing, dance and act their way to stardom – finding their true selves along the way.
Like the television show, the theatrical version is filled with melodramatic twists and turns. Your enjoyment of the production may well rely on your investment in the largely talented casts ability to plow through the turgid, predictable dialogue. The will-they-won’t-they romantic trials of these talented teens – all hard-working, hard-bodied and hard with ambition, if not a tad too old to believably be in high school – nonetheless feels fairly aimless for much of the show. Then there’s a sudden lurch after the hot-headed Carmen (Stephanie Rojas) quits school and follows a sleazy agent to LA – and gets punished for being too impatient for celebrity with a descent into drug addiction. There are also flat storylines about a dancer who can’t stop eating, and a young black man who’s unable to read, which have no subtlety and cringe inducing acting and dialogue.
Nick Winston’s choreography is absolutely on the money: pert, sprightly and a blast to watch. But while the earnest theatre majors might spout lessons from Stanislavski and Chekhov dialogue, no-one’s really here for the drama: Fame is all about belting tunes and dance moves, high-cut leotards and high kicks. And this production delivers, with lycra and leg warmers a-go-go. The acting is cartoonish, even buffoonish, a lot of the time, but the cast tear up the stage to a synth-heavy score inflected with funk, Latin grooves and incredibly ’80s saxophone solos. Winston’s direction has the music students playing live throughout and they’re integrated into big numbers fluidly.
The music is always going to get the audience going – the Oscar-winning title song is as much of a crowd-pleaser as always. The opening notes of “Fame”, “Love Scene” and “Bring on Tomorrow” are enough to give you goosebumps.
The score is the best part of this production, which is a shame for the show’s anniversary celebration. But it goes to show that Fame will live on as one of the great musicals on the strength of its songs.
The performances are too brash to breathe much life into their cardboard characters, but Jamal Kane Crawford stands out as Tyrone, who kicks against teachers insisting he study literature and dance ballet – and who leads a scorching second half dance bonanza in “Dancin’ on the Sidewalk.” Mica Paris, playing his tough but committed teacher Miss Sherman, wows the audience in her big number, ‘These Are My Children’, blowing away its sentimentality by sheer force.
Morgan Large’s set is spare for such a big stage, just using skeleton staircases to evoke New York’s fire escapes – but the design still dominates thanks to an effective ever-present backdrop of black-and-white old yearbook photos.
You can view the production via BroadwayHD.com. Fans can also take in Kinky Boots, Cats, 42nd Street, and many other productions that have been adapted specifically for streaming audiences. Visit BroadwayHD.com for more information.