NOTE: The following review dates from January 2002 and an earlier stop for this touring production. For current venue & casting information, visit performance listings.
In the 1980's, Alan Parker's movie Fame turned the New York High School
for Performing Arts into an icon for aspiring singers, dancers and actors.
It proved inspirational for youngsters all over the world, not least in the
UK, where Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts followed
its lead. With its dynamic New York setting and the kids springing into song
and dance at the most unlikely moments both in and out of the school, the
movie conveyed the pure joie de vivre of performing. The moral (if there was
one) seemed to be that aspiration, motivation, and hard work could turn the
most unsuitable students into headline toppers.
Many years later, David de Silva, whose concept this was, turned the movie
into a fully fledged stage musical which has been running in and out of the
West End for years.
The latest touring incarnation, tightly directed and choreographed by Karen Bruce,
manages to capture some of this joie de vivre, although the grey set lacks
the essential multi-colour diversity of NYC. This is not a great musical by
any means. The plot is minimal, with the students forming attachments on a
revolving door basis, an over-simplistic clash of ethnic backgrounds and a
stab at social realism with a drug-related death. There's little room for
The rock-based score (music, Steve Margoshes,
lyrics, Jaques Levy) driven by an excellent band (musical director, Steve
Hill) is pleasant enough, although a lyric which rhymes 'Lion in Winter'
with 'Harold Pinter', will give you some idea of the intellectual level of
The show scores, however, in its performance. Forget the clichés, and try to
put out of your mind echoes of Chorus Line, Grease and a dozen other
predecessors from which this material is clearly derived and just immerse yourself
in the sizzling routines, as a cast of 20 sing and dance their hearts out as
if there was no tomorrow.
Outstanding among them is Chris Copeland as the illiterate black kid from
the ghetto whose numbers (particularly "Dancin' on the Sidewalk") are
absolute show-stoppers. With more chips on both shoulders than would fill a
fat fryer, Copeland expresses joy, anger, and the whole gamut of emotions in
his dance. He is classically trained, and it shows.
It would be unfair to say that he outperforms the rest of the superb
company because this is not so. Ben Heathcote as an aspiring stand-up
comic, Leigh-Anne Stone as an overweight dancer turned actress, and Debbie
Kurup as the sexy, slinky vamp, whose dance brilliance is ruined by an overdose of ambition and drugs, all have their moments too. Leading the title number
as a finale, Kurup brings the audience to its feet. And the entire company sing and
dance with a commitment that would shame some performers of much greater