Remember the kids from Fame? I do. I was 10 when the TV show began airing on BBC in 1982 – a little too young to fully appreciate some of the topics being explored, but you couldn’t move for the Irene Cara’s theme song at school discos: “Baby remember my name (remember, remember…)” she implored. I didn’t. I had to look it up for this article.
Anyway, like last year’s We Will Rock You, the St John’s Academy production of Fame is aimed squarely at a parental market, although I’m sure the ongoing 80s revival in fashion and music helps it feel not too irrelevant to the cast (in fact the only time the stageplay feels dated is when fame-hungry Carmen fantasises about fighting off autograph hunters – today they’d all be taking selfies).
Like the movie and the TV series, the musical is set at New York City's High School of Performing Arts. Pre-X Factor and YouTube, young people had to go to college for a shot at success, a fact of which we are reminded in the opening song, a full company rendition of Hard Work.
Here singers, dancers and musicians triumph or fail, fall in love and fall back out again. They also swear and take drugs – something I’m sure was cut from the BBC teatime show but remains intact for this production, giving the cast members the chance to (legitimately) use four letter words on school grounds.
Thus Sam Austen as Hispanic acting student Joe Vegas gets to sing (quite graphically, and with superb comic timing) about his sexual prowess (I Can't Keep It Down), while dancer Carmen Diaz (Rosie Amos – a terrific actor, dancer and singer) substitutes breakfast for drugs to stay skinny and alert, drops out of school to seek her fortune in LA, and has to do God knows what to earn the money to get home again, all the while shooting the audience sassy looks that could stop traffic.
New York, of course, was and is a cultural melting pot, and class and ethnic tensions are a running theme throughout Fame – not easy for an all-white cast to convey.
So top marks to Archie Fisher (hip hop dancer Tyrone), who manages to rap (quite capably) about growing up poor and black in the Bronx. “No-ones gotta tell me what its like to be black,” he raps, without flinching.
The lad can dance, too. And besides some great dance performances from Sophie Little (ballet dancer Iris) and Rosie Amos, the role usually filled by “chorus members” is a stage-commanding dance troupe, while the backing singers huddle around the band in the orchestra pit.
School musicals normally demand acting and a bit of singing. Throwing dance into the mix is ambitious, and it says something about the St John’s – which offers music, dance and drama as part of its syllabus – that it has produced young performers who can handle all three – with aplomb.
Images courtesy of Sally Bere