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REVIEW: Fame - The Musical at Sunderland Empire
want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying in sweat."
Fame - The Musical Sunderland Empire Until Saturday 13th April 2019
The 30th anniversary tour of Fame The Musical, starring TV star
Jorgie Porter, soul legend Mica Paris and theatre star Keith Jack arrives at
the Sunderland Empire this week.
Producers Sell A Door state that they “principally aim to engage young and adult audiences, along with
first-time attendees, encouraging the next generation of theatre goers by
providing dynamic and diverse productions.” Judging by the large number of
teenagers congregating around the Dress Circle bar before the start of the show
Fame is attracting such an audience.
This must be a positive as, in an era of streaming entertainment, a new
generation is introduced to live performance.
Fame began life when David De Silva had produced the 1980 film, directed
by Alan Parker, about students at New York City's High School of Performing
Arts. For my generation, theme song aside, our introduction was the day-glo
lycra covered, leg warming wearing stars from the Kids From Fame albums and television
series. It was quite a surprise when my parents rented a video recorder and I
finally got to see the original film. It was a much darker production – at times
literally as the corridors were not well lit. The issues that the students were
much more adult than the tv show but I loved it.
The musical lies somewhere in between the film and the television series
in its feel. A set made up of two walls of year book photos, which become
individually lit up from time to time, result in a frequently bright set
design. The cast play instruments and dance their way through the story from
audition to graduation. The show looks really good. However, there are some dark
themes of diet, sex and drugs that occasionally pop up in the story, acting as
reminders of the broader life beyond the action within the confines of the
There have been numerous tours of Fame The Musical. The last time we saw it was in 2014 and there had been
an attempt to update it. It is with some relief to see that this
2019 production firmly returns the show to the original 1980-84. After the
brief audition scene, the hopefuls await letters sent by snail mail in order to
find out if they have a place rather than waiting for a text on their mobile
There is some effort in the story to introduce a large number of
characters, each with their own talent and individual hang-ups. This leaves the
audience with a lot of stories to follow but director Nick Winston just about manages
it without leaving the audience confused.
We are introduced to Iris (Jorgie Porter) who arrives in a big posh car
but, like many of the students, is putting on a front as she concentrates on
her ballet. Mabel (Hayley Johnson) is another dancer but she has issues with
her “see diet” (as in she sees food and eats it). Tyrone (Jamal Crawford) is a raw
talent as a dancer but he seems reluctant to hand in his book reports.
Schlomo (Simon Anthony) forms a band with drummer Lambchops (Louisa
Beadel) and in doing so he becomes the musician that grows in confidence
through performing arts. Carmen (Stephanie Rojas) is a complex character who
shows empathy with her relationships but she is also at the centre of the
darker moments in the musical.
Joe Vegas is the class clown, resulting in actor Albey Brookes having a
large share of the funniest lines in the script. Fellow drama students Nick
(Keith Jack) and Serena (Molly McGuire) take their craft very seriously which
acts as balance to the clown Joe. Keith Jack also gets one of the big early
numbers with his rendition of “I Want to
Whilst the action is very much focussed on the students, the vocation of
the teachers comes through too. Miss Sherman (Mica Paris) and Miss Bell (Katie
Warsop) make regular appearances. They represent the clash between the academic
and the performance elements of the school including the act one closing stand
off between the two members of staff. Mica Paris though shows off the fair side
of the often harsh English teacher during the big second act number “These Are My Children”, which is a real
show highlight.Also appearing are music
teacher Mr Scheinkpof (Duncan Smith), who prefers classical to rock and roll,
and drama teacher Mr Myers (Cameron Johnson) who frequently repeats the mantra
that the students need to find themselves before they can act as someone else.
That’s a lot of characters, but they tend to be in 3 sub-plots (the
drama, the musicians and the dancers) making it easier to follow.
The original film gets mentioned a few times – I loved the reference to
how the kids have seen the film and assume they’re going to live forever and
dance on top of cars! This was a nice touch.
Fame The Musical is a vibrant show full
of singing, dancing and a dose of pathos. There is a sense of energy from the
dancing. Having some of the instruments played on stage helps with the live
feel of the show.The rest of live band,
under Musical Director Tim Whiting, provided a tight accompaniment to the action.
This is a well paced show that was clearly going down well with the audience
who needed little encouragement to get on their feet for the final song – who can
resit Mica Paris singing Fame?