by Amy Toledano
“Fame!” – we all know the infamous song. The lyrics, “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly, HIGH” are not well known just because of the original 1980 film, but because of the subsequent television series, film remake and musicals that followed. The title song is a good one by all accounts, however this revival of the 1988 musical serves up little else that’s at its level.
For those that know the show, this production fulfils expectations. It follows the story of a group of hopeful teenagers accepted into the highly regarded High School of Performing Arts and their journey from first day through to graduation. It has all the bells and whistles that established this piece as a West End-level show, however the book by Jose Fernandez is now predictable and formulaic. It shows its age, and lacks diversity and progressiveness. There is a real lack of LGBTQ+ characters, as every relationship in the show (and there are a lot of them) is obviously heterosexual.
The script is clunky, and the only two actors of colour who have speaking roles lean in hard to stereotypes and use language that is detrimental and offensive to any cultural community that isn’t white. The show also focuses on and celebrates the scrutiny of the female body, as gorgeous dancer Mabel (Hayley Johnston) laments about her desperate desire to eat a pudding, but being denied this because she needs to lose weight. It is disturbing to say the least.
The cast are generally strong, in particular Molly McGuire has comedy chops that can’t be beat, and does the best she can with a female role written, very clearly, by a man. Mica Paris as Miss Sherman is vocally brilliant, as is the multi-talented Simon Anthony (Schlomo). Stephanie Rojas is fantastic as Carmen, a talented young actress who is swallowed up by a slimy agent and whisked away to L.A. with the promise of instant fame and success. An all too common occurrence, Carmen experiences nothing but abuse, both physical and mental, and her drug addiction cripples her. Her solo song “In L.A.” is the most raw and honest moment in the show and is truly heart-breaking.
Once again, we are left wondering why on earth such a show needs a revival, and the difficult position that many musical theatre performers are forced to be in. Work is scarce for young actors and when the only option at any given time is a show such as this one, what else are they to do but make the most of weak writing and uninspired music.
Fame runs through 19 October at the Peacock Theatre in London.
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