It’s back. After ten years playing seasons at no less than four different West End theatres followed by a seemingly endless stream of UK touring productions Fame the Musical has returned, this time with former Steps star Ian H. Watkins and Two Pints of Lager’s cheeky girl Natalie Casey heading the cast of 2007.
So do the kids from the New York School of Performing Arts leap on a bright yellow New York City taxi and warble “I’m gonna live forever” as if their lives depended on it? Unsurprisingly, William Hill stopped taking bets on that dead cert as soon as the summer season at the Shaftesbury Theatre was announced. And yes, this maddeningly enjoyable show still provides most of its dramatic kicks from watching pupils graduate from talented teens to fully fledged pros while discovering how fame is not only hard to achieve but can turn into a four-letter F-word if you don’t start paying in sweat and tears and knuckle down to some old-fashioned book learning as well.
Directed and re-staged by old Fame hand Karen Bruce (who injected enough choreographic energy into the West End production of Footloose to power the National Grid) there’s plenty of the required heartache and romance in-between megawatt routines and some deftly executed dance work-outs, although there surely ought to be a more eighties vibe about this bunch of extremely watchable students being groomed for stardom while sowing their wild theatrical oats. Somehow, for nostalgic fans of the original movie, Miss Sixty jeans and Top Shop chic will never quite replace flying splits delivered in retro eighties legwarmers, with soul queen Irene Cara belting out “I’m gonna learn how to fly – high”.
The triple-threat cross-over between acting, dancing and singing demands a lot from any cast but a talented company rises way above the predictable Fame script to “make magic”. Natalie Kennedy in particular is red-hot as Carmen Diaz, an over-ambitious Hispanic student whose dream of making it big in LA ends in a drugs nightmare.
If star diplomas are being handed out then step forward Desi Valentine. As Tyrone Jackson, the angry ghetto kid with literacy issues, this vibrant performer seems equally at home rapping, dancing on the sidewalks or performing a delicate pas de deux with ballet princess Iris (Danielle Cato). Of the teaching staff, Jacqui Dubois’ dedicated Miss Sherman has the most revelatory moment when she sings oh so soulfully about how the students have become substitutes for having children of her own.
Watkins, the ex-popster who went on to graduate from the Royal Academy of Music – surely the ultimate fame school – takes his acting classes suitably seriously as Nick Piazza the wannabe thespian with a passion for Pinter, while Casey, as the cookie Brooklyn girl who can’t quite work out if Nick is gay or swings both ways, dredges up feelings of rejection by singing “Think of Meryl Streep” with real passion.
Watching these kids and their mentors playing the fame game surely can’t last forever. Still, a top class cast keep the Fame flame burning in the West End, at least for the summer.