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Fame The Musical

From silver screen to stage, this 80’s musical has now arrived at Birmingham Hippodrome. “I Want To Live Forever” says Terry Wills.

Starting it’s life as a smash hit film success in 1980 ‘Fame’ found it’s format irresistible to television moguls. Two years of stories about a group of enthusiastic wannabe stars studying at the New York Theatre of Performing Arts, so entranced viewers and critics that it ran for five seasons, winning 10 Emmy awards and a prestigious Golden Globe award in the process.

The final, and on reflection, obvious progression, adapting it the stage, was launched in London’s West End in 1995 and since then it’s either been resident in the capital or successfully touring. It’s been seen by nearly 5 million people in this country alone.

Now it’s back at the Hippodrome giving those who fondly remember the original, plus first timers, a chance to judge and explain the reason/s why it has retained it’s obviously enduring popularity.

It opens with a variety of budding highly enthusiastic young actors, singers, dancers and musicians being gleefully told they’re ‘the cream of the crop’, worthy of being offered the chance to graduate and subsequently make their own individual mark in their chosen profession.

So far so good, but as we learn more of the reasons why various individuals are seeking fame I found these something of an intrusion. (Where are the promised exhilarating dancing routines crystallising the reasons for the original film and TV successes’?)

Among the dancers is Carmen, lithe, athletic, sexy, and seemingly willing to do anything to succeed. Enthusiastically telling the world “I want to play Anita in West Side Story”

Other hopefuls have varying reasons to succeed. Overcoming illiteracy, unsure of their sexual desires, and drug abuse.

The responsibility of guiding them to hopefully and eventually succeed naturally falls on their teachers. Among them English Teacher Miss Sherman and Miss Bell who at one point have an argument as to the right and wrong ways of passing on their knowledge and advice.

Naturally, some of the hopefuls, despite having what on the surface appear to be a vastly different take on life, begin to slowly, very slowly, bond with those of a different persuasion.

And herein lies the weakness of a musical that only springs to life when the imaginative and exhilarating dance routine takes centre stage.

‘Audition’ is both informative and amusing especially when Tarisha (Mabel Washington) a somewhat overlarge student participates in a Classical Ballet scene.
Indeed throughout the performance, and much to the audiences delight, she makes it succinctly clear she would much prefer downing tubs of ice cream and burgers to working on various routines.

What did come as a surprise was a total revamp of the original production. New production, new songs, and none particularly memorable apart from a touching, plaintive rendition from Beverely Trotman of “These are my Children”

Thankfully THE hit title number ‘Fame’ (“I want to live forever”) is still the major show-stopper. And as Carmen and fellow students belt out the number it revoked memories of that long gone, but certainly not forgotten, original TV success.

Other highlights? The opening of Act 2. Students suitably attired in purple and red costumes aided by innovative lighting admirably strutting their stuff to ‘The Fall Festival’.

Add to that Tyrone, exploding into action with a breathtaking dance, backed by his fellow students, singing ‘Dancin’ on the Sidewalk’ plus ‘Bring on Tomorrow’ and the show begins to live up to it’s pre publicity expectations.

Proved as the successful graduating students receive their ‘certificates of honour’ set against a sad but somewhat predictable, poignant, announcement. The company sing ‘Bring on Tomorrow’ before calling the audience to join in by standing, clapping and singing ‘Fame’ (“I want to live forever”)

No further encouragement needed. Especially when Carmen, making an entrance standing on top of a high-powered sports car, leads everyone, and it appeared to be everyone, in a wonderful reprise. Naturally accompanied by even more frenetic, energetic, eye- popping dance routines.

Individual performances, not helped by a lack of a strong story line, come via Beverley Trotman as Miss Sherman. Tarisha Rommick as Mabel. Tyrone (Dancin’ on the Sidewalk) is played by Spin; yes, it is his stage name, while all of the other principals give personable performances not helped by storylines lacking in substance.

Unsurprisingly Holly James playing the ambitious Carmen takes centre stage and how the audience responded to the finale, that convinced me that while Fame may lack the sparkle of the original film and TV shows, it will inevitably draw those who appreciate fabulous dancing, back into theatres for years to come.

Incidentally for ‘Stirrer’ readers who fondly remember the original Film comes news that later in the year a brand new production will hit the ‘Big Screen’ starring, among others, THE star of both the film and TV productions, Debbie Allen.

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