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Theatre review: Updated Fame could live forever

Fame - The Musical arrives at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday. Picture by Hugo Glendinning.

Fame - The Musical arrives at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday. Picture by Hugo Glendinning.

You can forget those 1980s multi-coloured leg-warmer, trendy sweatbands and huge ghetto blasters if you’re planning to visit Milton Keynes Theatre this week as Fame The Musical is brought bang up to date with the cast now carrying iPads, iPods and iPhones, writes Alan Wooding.

Times have certainly changed since, what was an American phenomenon, first swept across our cinema and television screens around 30 years ago and well before the Fame stage show went on to thrill the West End in 1995.

A successful countrywide tour followed and while the ‘new’ Fame is really a 2014 makeover of the original, it does retain its high octane drive and its ‘I’m Gonna Live Forever, I’m Gonna Learn How To Fly’ theme.

Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd – the man responsible for shows like ‘The Tina Turner Experience’ and ‘Thriller Live’ – all the songs have been tweaked while the cast produce the type of high-energy 21st Century dance routines that have become a favourite on Saturday night TV in the Britain’s Got Talent!

With the action taking place in front of a Times Square backdrop, there’s a mezzanine flooring area above the actual stage on which a five piece band are housed … and they really rock.

Meanwhile the main props at the New York High School for Performing Arts (the ‘PA’ for short) come in the shape of school lockers which are manhandled around the set to form classrooms, theatre seating and various street scenes.

The reworked musical numbers prove to be a breath of fresh air with sexual innuendoes coming thick and fast in the ‘Can’t Keep it Down’ number sung by Joe Vegas (Joseph Giacone) and that certainly got a great reaction from Monday night’s audience.

In fact apart from ‘Mabel’s Prayer’, it was probably the most fun moment of the entire show while in contrast, ‘Bring on Tomorrow’ – which was sung at the student’s graduation – made half the auditorium choke!

Sadly some of the songs, performed in a heavy New York accent, meant that most of the lyrics were inaudible, especially ‘Tyrone’s Rap’ and ‘There She Goes’, which led to first singing of the familiar ‘Fame’ number. In fact several other songs met the same fate with the lyrics being totally lost above the volume of the band.

Fortunately it was the dancing that held it all together … and that just a week after the brilliant Vincent Simone and Flavia Caraca wowed the Milton Keynes audiences with their fabulous show, Dance ’Til Dawn.

From curtain up, the latest PA intake of just 97 kids are taking ‘selfies’ and chatting on their mobiles, their head teacher Miss Esther Sherman (Landi Oshinowo) telling them that there were originally 4,000 applicants so the currently intake are the pick of the crop.

As for wanting to ‘Live Forever’, relative newcomer Jodie Steele plays the lead as tragic wannabe star Carmen Diaz. At times she has a really pleasant voice but at other times it seemed to go into an unflattering screech during the big notes.

And, unfortunately, we got more of the same in the finale when she invites the audience to join in with, ‘I Want To Live Forever’, after first saying I’m sure you know the words. And, of course, most of the audience did know the words and many were quickly up on their feet, happily clapping and bopping along.

Tyrone Jackson (Alex Thomas) is a superb energetic dancer, but also a failing dyslexic student, while his excellent ballet sequence with Iris Kelly (Sasi Strallen) is a real highlight in the show.

The likeable Joseph Giacone plays Fame’s resident comedian Joe, while Sarah Harlington impressed as star-struck student Serena Katz who falls for her classmate Nick Piazza (Alex Jordan-Mills). Nick has already made ‘the big time’ as he’d appeared in a nationwide US television commercial for peanut butter … and Serena’s obviously smitten by all that stardom!

Serena’s ballad, ‘Let’s Play a Love Scene’, was beautifully sung as was her rendition of ‘Think of Meryl Streep’ which she performs after being cast as Juliet in the PA’s drama class opposite Joe, a comically-dressed and highly unlikely Romeo.

Miss Sherman’s, ‘These Are My Children’, is well received as is ‘Mabel’s Prayer’, the overweight Mabel being played by Molly Stewart who makes a joke of being the fattest Performing Arts dancer – and she’s always looking for her next meal.

There is a musical stand-off between Miss Sherman and dance teacher Miss Bell (Hermione Lynch) regarding Tyrone’s future while David Haydn and John Canmore play fellow teachers Mr Myers and Mr Scheinkopf respectively.

The others cast members who feature strongly are Harry Blumenau as music student Schlomo Metzenbaum who falls madly in love with Carmen Diaz (Steele). Then there’s trumpet playing Ross Lee Fowkes as fellow band member Goodman ‘Goody’ King and the diminutive Alexzandra Sarmiento as Grace ‘Lamchop’ Lamb who plays a mean hand drum machine.

The whole cast certainly gave it everything they could … their dancing and singing bringing enormous energy to this new two hour 40-minute production which unsurprisingly comes under prolific producer Bill Kenwright’s banner.

Fame The Musical plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday, May 17, with tickets priced between £12.90 and £41.40 (booking fees apply) from the theatre box office on 08448 717652 or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

 

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