Written by Daniella Litvak
Fame is the hit movie from the 1980s, featuring teenagers dancing in the streets of New York City to the proclamation of “Fame! I’m gonna live forever/I’m gonna learn how to fly (high!)”–these lyrics have since become an indelible part of pop culture. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. It spawned two television series – a reality show competition –and even a film remake in 2009. Most importantly, Fame: The Musical made its stage debut in 1988 and has been performed around the world at all levels ever since.
The film and the musical share the same premise. Both portrayals feature the hardships and heartaches that a group of aspiring student performers face while attending New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts during the 1980s, with the story following them from auditions to graduation. However, the musical is not a direct adaptation of the movie. (Don’t worry you’ll hear the title song. But the other song from the movie that was also nominated for an Academy Award, “Out Here On My Own,” is not included in the theatrical production). The musical has chosen to build its story around a different group of students rather than the movie’s characters, although the musical’s characters and plot lines do share a resemblance to the ones contained in the movie.
There are a lot of characters in this show, with each individual passionately pursuing their own desires and dreams. However, the main storylines are as follows: Serena Katz (Johnisa Breault) is in love with fellow acting student Nick Piazza (Gregory Yuan), but all Nick cares about is his craft. Jack Zakowski’s (Thomas Challain) dancing career is threatened because he cannot pass his English class. While triple threat Carmen Diaz (Phoebe Melanson) is determined to become famous as soon as possible –no matter what it takes.
The numerous characters and plot lines create a few issues. First of all, they overstretch the story of the overall show. Because the musical has to be selective about what moments it depicts, it feels like the audience misses out on key moments in each person’s journey and therefore makes certain character decisions come off as abrupt. There are characters such as Iris Kelley (Hannah Jarvis) and Schlomo Metzenbaum (Derek Isaza) who have interesting back stories and could potentially carry their own storylines, but ultimately their purpose is to forward Jack and Carmen’s stories instead.
Luckily the story issues do not bring down the cast. Their enthusiasm is obvious and comes through while performing. The dancing –especially the ballet sequences –is impressive.
“Teacher’s Argument,” a duet between the dance teacher, Miss Bell (Chrisine DePalmo) and the English teacher, Miss Sherman (Judy Mina-Ballard) is one of the standout songs. I love this rendition for many reasons. First of all the actresses’ performances are wonderful. Secondly, the song is an entertaining take on the topic of whether artists need traditional academic subjects as much as they need training in the arts. Third, the lighting design during the song is terrific.
All in all, Fame: The Musical is a lot like its characters: energetic, talented, but a bit rough. Still, “Remember. Remember. Remember…” it’s playing at the Mysterium Theater.
Sidenote : “Mabel’s Prayer.” performed by Thaies Quezada is fantastic.
March 17 – April 10th 2016
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