Fame, The Musical, Grand Opera House, Monday August 19th, 2019
By Conor O’Neill
If you were a kid of the 80s, you’ll have many regrets and some beautiful memories. Fame falls into the latter. With an elder, dance-mad sister I was often dragged – though I think it must’ve been happily – to be her male partner in routines: whether it be Bucks Fizz, with us pair singing into hair brushes and her with a towel wrapped round her and pirouetting as it twirled off to Making Your Mind Up, to acting out her favourite scenes of Fame the tele series. Legwarmers, batwing jumpers and ski-pants were all the rage then… but that’s all in the past.
In the present, the Grand Opera House’s stage has an industrial feel to it. To the rear are hundreds of pictures of past pupils, some of the one per cents who must’ve made it to stardom after their years in New York’s High School for Performing Arts. Miss Sherman (Mica Paris) runs the dilapidated school where, ‘A 2.5 grade average at academical level must be achieved to continue your stay here’, she demands. Leroy, Coco, Doris and Bruno are nowhere to be seen in this modern take, but there’s new characters fitting perfectly into this stage adaptation.
The year is 1983 -1984 and out of 3000 applicants only 97 have made it on to the lower rungs of the ladder. We follow Iris, Tyrone, Serena, Nick, Carmen, Schlomo, Joe Vegas and others as they try to learn their lines and routines, try to meet the harshly enforced academic requirements and of course, as with all groups of teens, the hormones are raging and many have non-curriculum subjects to chase.
As the GOH’s seats fill, a band tune and warm up in the pit; though not all musicians are under the boards. Musical director Tim Whiting runs a ship as equally as Miss Sherman’s above. The program states there are only five musicians beneath the action, yet they sound like there’s at least 20 plus as the band pounds through 80s electro pop, to tinkles of jazz, then flamenco, classical ballet, hip-hop… almost every musical genre you can think of is covered.
The audience is a mix, though females in their mid-forties are by far the majority. Some have brought their daughters while others are in groups simply out for a girlies’ night and the bar is making a ton. I’m told that tickets are going fast for most nights, though there are a few left and room in Thursday and Saturday’s matinee shows at 2.30.
Anyway, back to the mid 80s. As with most classes, there are splinter groups, love interests, a class clown, pressure from teachers, a serious one steeped in the classics, questions of sexual orientation, those wanting to go too fast, a shy one, unrequited love (?) and of course, what a thousand plus paying punters have came to see, fantastic dance routines and songs that’ll have your knee bouncing one moment and a tear near your eye at others. Dyslexia, drug addiction, the necessity of staying thin, the call of early stardom in LA and more subplots and set changes than you can count make for a great night.
There are standout key characters and scenes. Though only mentioned as an ensemble, member, Morgan Jackson’s Joe Vegas will have your stomach crunching with laughter, ‘Hey, I’m an extrovert’ he explains in the ‘Truth or Consequence’ exercise. ‘More like a pervert’ utters one of his female classmates. Vegas’ ill-thought-out and pushed upon him role as Romeo, complete with Blackadder The First type comedy codpiece, will also have you in stitches. Jorgie Porter’s classical dance skills as Iris are arguably only matched by Jamal Kane Crawford’s modern steps of Tyrone.
Keith Jack who plays the misjudged Nick has a penchant for the serious, Serena played by Molly Maguire argues that they should, ‘Act as adolescents, because we are adolescents’. To name and give credit to all cast members would turn this into a thesis, but Stephanie Rojas as streetwise, go-getter Carmen is central and like many of the cast her voice is out of this world.
Unfortunately the program doesn’t include song titles, but headteacher Miss Sherman’s soulful singing will have the name Aretha Franklin immediately spring to your mind. Not a surprise then to read actor Mica Paris’s roots are in soul and gospel.
Director and choreographer, Nick Winston and all backstage staff provided all on stage an excellent setting. Quite simply, probably the best musical I’ve seen in recent memory.
To get your tickets phone the Grand Opera House box office on 02890 241919 or visit http://www.goh.co.uk
Fame runs up to and including Saturday, August 24th, with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30