Fame the Musical – Review

Apr 23 2014 | By More

★★★☆☆   Learning to fly

Edinburgh Playhouse Tue 22 – Sat 26 April 2014
Review by Thom Dibdin

Souped-up, remixed and updated, Fame returns to town in a new production that is – as it boasts – “like you’ve never seen it before”.

There is plenty of reason to update David De Silva’s quarter-of-a-century old musical for 2014.

Tyrone and the dancers. Photo: Fame the Musical

Tyrone and the dancers. Photo:Fame the Musical

It could do with some spruce new moves for start, while a contemporary kick in the bassline wouldn’t go amiss and it certainly needs at least a nod to the post-X Factor generation.

And to give director and choreographer Gary Lloyd credit where it is due, he has managed to do the first two of the three while keeping all the original songs in place – if updated – and the plot lines intact.

As the show opens, the latest intake to PA – the New York High School for the Performing Arts – are found chatting on their mobiles and taking selfies on their tablets as they arrive for the first day.

A superficial update it might be, but combined with contemporary staging and design by Diego Pitarch, the show’s 21st century feel is immediately apparent and carries through as the show follows the trials of the group as they pass through the school to graduation.

Although it must be said that there are several points where those doing updating could have been a lot more adventurous than a few gizmos here and a reference to a post 1980s star or music genre there. No doubt they were somewhat bound by the copyright issues.

Then there is an early line from Head Teacher Miss Sherman about the 4,000 applicants for PA – of whom only 97 were accepted. It’s a line which chimes with the recent debate about whether drama schools are training too many students – started by The Stage education correspondent Susan Elkin.

seat-wobblingly, deeply, deadly awesome

Musically, the success of the updates is a lot more mixed. If it is adding some kick-ass bass that you are after, then Andy Balls and Gary Hickenson’s arrangements and remixing are an utter triumph. Some of their basslines are awesome – seat-wobblingly, deeply, deadly awesome.

The full cast. Photo © Fame the Musical

The full cast. Photo © Fame the Musical

If it is clarity you want, however, then plenty has gone awry. When its just one or two voices and some simple backing, then things are relatively fine. But as soon as the orchestrations get in the least bit lush, not only does the singing become lost in the mix but it also loses any sense of dynamic flow.

It is a situation which leaves characterisation floundering, lyrics incomprehensible and the whole piece generally feeling flat. Worst affected are the famous lines from the title song, about wanting to live forever and learning how to fly, high.

Delivered by Jodie Steele as tragic Carmen Diaz – the student who wants to fly the highest and crashes the hardest – Fame becomes a horrific screech. Great pipes she might have, but a brace of stunt high-notes is not enough to sell a song. And to add insult to injury, when Steele tells the audience to sing-along for the song’s reprise in the finale, saying in true pantomime style “Let’s see if you know the words”, there is little to indicate that she does herself.

The problem for Steele is that Carmen is the least believable character in this 21st century version of the show. All that want-it-now, corner-cutting attitude without at least a mention of X Factor – or any other generic talent competition – just does not feel right.

Other characters, who have less to contend with in their solo numbers, fare rather better. Sarah Harlington might not have the most lovely of voices as Serena, the star-struck drama student who falls for already famous classmate Nick, but she uses is well.

Harlington’s Let’s Play a Love Scene really begins to put Serena at the heart of the production – a place she reinforces with Think of Meryl Streep. Both songs are delivered simply, helping drive the plot along and Harlington build her character.

There’s more simplicity from Landi Oshinowo as Miss Sherman with These Are My Children, which allows her to increase the quality several notches in the one number. While Molly Stewart, as oversized dancer Mabel, makes the most of Mabel’s Prayer, delivered as a hard driving soul number.

It is in the dancing that this really excels. While the side-story about Tyrone Jackson’s failing academic studies feels too slightly drawn, Alex Thomas’s dancing is big, high-kicking and extravagant stuff. The ballet sequences with Sasi Strallen as Iris have a fluid, contemporary feel to them.

The dance energy goes through the whole cast, too, with ensemble routines that are strongly choreographed and delivered with real discipline, while the energy levels never fall away over the evening.

Running time 2 hours 45 mins.
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Tue 22 – Sat 26 April 2014.
Daily: 7.30pm; matinees Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: www.atgtickets.com
Tour website: www.fame-the-musical.com
The show on twitter: @fameuktour


Fame the Musical on tour:

21 – 26 April Edinburgh
Playhouse Theatre
0844 871 3014 Book online
28 April – 3 May Stoke
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
5 – 10 May Salford
Lowry Theatre
0843 208 6000 Book online
12 – 17 May Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
19 – 24 May Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
26 – 31 May Bristol
Hippodrome Theatre
0844 871 3012 Book online
2 – 7 June Coventry
Belgrade Theatre
024 7655 3055 Book online
9 – 14 June Darlington
Civic Theatre
01325 486555 Book online
16 – 21 June Hull
New Theatre
01482 300 300 Book online
23 – 28 June Glasgow
Kings Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
30 June – 5 July St Albans
01727 8444 88 Book online
14 – 19 July Torquay
Princess Theatre
0844 871 3023 Book online
21 – 26 July Bromley
Churchill Theatre
0844 871 7620 Book online
28 July – 2 Aug Bournemouth
Pavilion Theatre
0844 576 3000 Book online
5 – 9 Aug Truro
Hall for Cornwall
01872 262466 Book online
11 – 16 Aug Perth
Concert Hall
01738 621031 Book online
18 – 23 Aug Canterbury
Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
25 – 30 Aug Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892 277 Book online
1 – 6 Sep Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
15 – 20 Sep Chesterfield
Winding Wheel
01246 345 222 Book online
22 – 27 Sep Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000 Book online
29 Sep – 4 Oct Shrewsbury
Severn Theatre
01743 281281 Book online
6 – 11 Oct Southsea
Kings Theatre
023 9282 8282 Book online
13 – 18 Oct Kings Lynn
Corn Exchange
01553 764 864 Book online


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,