The reasons for its success confound many as the 'inspired by' tag is loose, at best. If you remember the Alan Parker film or the kids from the smash hit TV show, their names have been changed and their characters have been tweaked. If the cheesy but lovable hit "Starmaker" makes you dab your eyes, be prepared as the only song you will hear from the past is the title track.
The plot is really a series of disjointed scenes - but like previous incarnations, the students in the New York School of Performing Arts still crave fame. Memories of Debbie Allen tapping her stick may get you through some of the laughable dialogue, as this show is really about nostalgia. This is the only real ace up the show's sleeve as Jacques Levy's songs veer from embarrassing ("Can't Keep It Down" featuring erection jokes!) to almost there ("Let's Play a Love Scene" - sweet but slight); never hitting the memorable heights of “High Fidelity” or “Friday Night.”
Jose Fernandez's book attempts to highlight the desperate acts of these young people in their quest for fame. But, like the stage version of Saturday Night Fever, what works on film seems stilted and forced on stage. When something bad happens - like Carmen's rapid decline due to drug addiction - a big musical number is ready to take away the pain, giving the piece a Disney-esque quality that dilutes the central message.
The talented cast make up for many of these shortcomings with brilliant performances. Lynne Jenkinson’s Serena is sweet natured with an amazing voice. She turns “Think of Meryl Streep” from laughable, lyrically to heartfelt via her superb delivery. Sophia Nomvete and Nick Hayes shine as both Mabel and Nick - completely different but ‘lost’ kids. Madalena Alberto is in fine voice as Carmen – even if she cannot do much with the underwritten character. Debralee Wells also brings power to the role of Miss Sherman with her stirring vocals.
Strictly Dance Fever fans will spot winners Darrien Wright and Hollie Robertson having a ball in the ensemble, showing you their superb moves. They, like the rest of this brilliant cast, bring so much energy and life to the limp concept, leaving you smiling.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Opera House, Manchester)
NOTE: The following THREE-STAR review dates from August 2004 and a previous tour for this production.
Many people joked that Fame couldn't possibly live forever when this stage adaptation first appeared in 1995. They had been expecting to see the much loved characters, plot devices and songs like "I Sing The Body Electric" and, of course Irene Cara's smash hit "Fame". Well, unlike Saturday Night Fever which delivers the old songs alongside new material, Fame contains only one classic song, the title track. Jacques Levy has written the rest of the patchy material for the show. Leroy, Doris, Cocoa and Bruno - the original kids from Fame aren't here although their character traits are evident throughout.
The action is set in the New York High School of Performing Arts in the 1980's. We follow the multi talented students who have one thing in common; they each crave fame. Like Alan Parker's original film, personal demons haunt each of them. Mabel (Delia Harris) is told to lose weight if she wants to dance, Tyrone (Craig Stein) is dyslexic and fearful of being found out, and Carmen (Leila Benn Harris) is as hooked on drugs as she is on the idea of being famous.
Some of these dark tones work, others fail spectacularly because lyrically none of the songs have the edge of the title tune and any attempt at comedy to lift the piece is clumsily done. "Can't Keep it Down" sung with real spirit by scene-stealer, James Haggie leaves the audience not knowing whether to smirk or sigh in disbelief at the erection jokes. Similarly the serious and earnest number, "Think Of Meryl Streep" makes you chuckle at Levy's feeble attempts to find words that rhyme with "Streep" in spite of Rachel Hale's superb delivery. "Dancin' On The Sidewalk" has the slice of adrenaline that this show needs, here Stein energetically wows the audience and almost summersaults them into submission.
The performances lift this musical so much that by the time that Act Two commences, you cannot help but ignore Jose Fernandez's somewhat risible script and let the actors make you believe that the material itself has legs. As Miss Sherman and Miss Bell, Janet Kumah and Dawn Buckland provide the show with real emotion during their intense scenes together. The dancers are all superb and vocally each performer delivers every time.
This slice of Fame may not live in your memory forever but the spirited performers will make you remember their names.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry, Salford Quays)