I always used to think the eighties (shell suits and shoulder pads!) pretty much passed me by, but not even I (stuck in the groove of nappy changing and ‘nursery teas’) could miss the impact of the film and TV series Fame whose style and music even made it into our local keep-fit classes. Everyone was suddenly strutting around in legwarmers and dance-wear!
So all those years later, how well does the musical stand up as a reminder of that heady era and, most of all, as a good night out?
Judging by the crowds queuing to get out of the rain yesterday for the first night of the Bristol leg of the UK tour, Fame still has a very big pull and one that crosses generations. Maybe those eighties fans passed on their enthusiasm and, of course, it’s a story bound to appeal to any teenager aspiring to a career on the stage.
It has to be said the cast gave this show absolutely everything: exuberant dance numbers, ebullient acting and some really joyous music. Mica Paris’ show-stopping rendition of ‘These are My Children’ and her fantastic stage presence made me wish she had a bigger role to play.
Other stand-out performances were from Stephanie Rojas (Carmen), Molly McGuire (Serena), Simon Anthony (Schlomo), and Keith Jack making the most of a difficult role as slightly nerdy Nick. A special mention too for Alexander Zane in a very gutsy stage musical debut as Goody.
In the rear stalls I occasionally I found the sound over-amplified but that just might be me!
If there was a problem it wasn’t with the performances so much as the show itself. Being an ensemble piece the show has less narrative drive than others I can think of and we don’t always see or hear enough from individual characters to feel a bond with them. This was certainly true of the first half which was dominated by t one-track minded Mabel (food) and Joe (sex) hamming up the humour. I only started to feel an emotional investment with Serena’s Let’s Play a Love-Scene.
The second half did wrack up the emotional intensity with the departure of Carmen and the drama played out between Tyrone and Miss Sherman. The staging, by the way, used the students’ photos as a backdrop which I found diverting at first but as the show went on I found they started to distract me from the action and was pleased when they were ‘blacked out’ by the lighting in some numbers.
The final song, Bring on Tomorrow is a fine song to end on and was vocally superb, but with the group standing in line wearing identical graduation gowns it did feel a bit static as a finale. Still, this wasn’t the real finale as we were treated at last to a full-blown all-singing all-dancing version of the song we know and love – Fame, I’m gonna live forever…had everyone on their feet.
So if this wasn’t my favourite musical of all time it was still a great night out with impeccable performances and I was sorry to miss the chance to meet cast members and dance leaders after the show and find out how they maintain such incredible levels of energy.
Fame might not live forever, but I think it will be around for a while yet.