Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Fame: The Musical

2005 Tour for Fame 200 Ltd , New Theatre Cardiff , January 28, 2005
This review first appeared in the Western mail....

Alan Parker's 1980 zietgeist movie has a lot to answer for - not only an inescapable and seemingly interminable spin-off tv series but Fame Academy, plus the subsequent glorified talent shows spawned by the mating of that bastard child of the original movie with reality tv, and the perpetually reinvented Fame The Musical.

This is not to be confused with Fame The Movie or indeed Fame The Real Thing, settling uneasily as this does between the original concept of the film and a hyped-up showcase for performance wannabees, having none of the qualities of either the film musical or the fascination of Fame Academy.

Fame, the film that started it all was, you may recall, a fresh outsider's look at New York's vibrant multiculturalism and the subversion of the American Dream - English director Parker was clearly bedazzled by American urban street culture and how at least in Manhattan's School For the Performing Arts there was a kind of democracy that encouraged people from all ethnic and economic backgrounds to fulfil their potential. The most stunning scene in the film was, after all, when the students took their new-found liberty literally onto the street with a great music and dance number that became a classic (and reminds us that what made it such an exciting film was not just the theme but the choreography and editing).

If you expect any of that sharpness or politics or sense of celebration from Fame The Musical you will be disappointed. All that's left from that radical original is the setting and a kind of token message about equality - and a repeated version of the title song, the only music to survive from Michael Gore's film score.

Instead we have a series of mini-scenes, each with its own number, generally performed, it must be said, with guts and enthusiasm albeit also with distorted amplification. Set in the Eighties (in the years after the Fame movie), there’s maybe a touch of nostalgia or retro fascination, depending on your age, and there’s a self-confidence about the production that only years of repetition can induce – and, yes, I was one of the few not on their feet at the end.

The modern dancing, I am assured by a companion who knows these things, is of a pretty high standard, and the lead Craig Styne is impressive - if only he hadn't given up acting after the first scene and maintained his energy through to the end. I wish, too, we'd heard more of Janet Kumah, who belted out a soul number with passion, especially welcome in view of the boring musical score.

It is a musical so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that there is not only no content but no storyline as such, superficial characterisation and a clunky script that is at times embarrassing in its trivialness, so that when something serious is introduced, like a narcotics tragedy, it jars rather than moves. But as a fan of musicals I may not be surprised but I am annoyed because it doesn't have to be so.

And as for progressive ideas - well, an early number is an uncomfortably crude rampant paean to priapism, the idea that a student might be gay is greeted with astonishment, and indeed every relationship in the show is unambiguously heterosexual (which is not only rather homophobic but ridiculously unrealistic in this setting).

But that isn't why audiences flock to every repackaging of this show - it's a ritual performed without any real anticipation of surprise or quality, where the appeal of the original is lost in the mists of time and where an umpteenth reproduction is not going to be bought for its authenticity.

Indeed, quite who's responsible is difficult to tell - this is the 2005 Tour for Fame 200 Ltd, the programme tells us, restaged by Karen Bruce after the original London Production directed by Runar Borge after the original production at the Coconut Grove Theatre, presented by Adam Spiegel and Mark Goucher by permission of Josef Weinberger Limited on behalf of Music Theatre International of New York, conceived and developed by David de Silva...and no mention of the film.

Reviewed by: David Adams

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