Fame: The MusicalPhotos - David Wyatt

Bearing some similarities to the original movie and spin off television series, Fame The Musical is set in a New York performing arts high school and focuses on a group of aspiring young students. As is often the way when film translates to musical theatre, characterizations and narrative arcs lose some of their complexity to keep songs and dance moving along at a snappy pace. Artistic dreams, drug overdoses, cross-culture love, illiteracy and poverty are swept up in a collection of snappy musical selections and dance routines.

Being a show about teenagers means there are many roles for Australia’s newest generation of stage performers. The cast is brimming with both recently graduated musical theatre students and contestants from reality television show So You Think You Can Dance. More mature performers like American singer Darlene Love and Australian actors Andrew McFarlane and Brian Wenzel round out the cast.  

Musical theatre roles usually require a “triple threat” – the combined skills of singing, dancing and acting. In this case, the performers are singers or dancers, but most are not trained across both genres. Director and choreographer Kelley Abbey has done well to play to unique strengths. Overall, the best singers stand out as individuals while the dancers are strong as a collective ensemble unit. There’s a sense of cohesion and unity within the cast, although the lack of versatility is sometimes evident.

Talia Fowler (the 2009 SYTYCD winner) and Timomatic (also from 2009 SYTYCD) play the lead dance roles, a studious ballerina and a cocky self-trained street dancer, who dance-wise, are not a far stretch from their real-life selves. While their dancing is a highlight, especially their tango pas de deux and Timomatic’s sharp, athletic hip hop, they struggle to maintain the dramatic aspects of their characters. In Timomatic’s big number, Dancin’ On The Sidewalk, dance triumphs over singing, with his vocals lost amidst his Michael Jackson-inspired moves.

Musical theatre trained actors Jaz Flowers, Chris Durling and Catherine Shepherd shine in vocal roles, but are not required to dance. Flowers, especially, gives a hard-hitting rendition of Mabel’s Prayer and milks her food-loving, overweight character to great effect. Darlene Love plays principle Miss Sherman and her big number These Are My Children not only shows what a powerful vocalist she is, but also brings a gravitas to proceedings. Young gun Rowena Vilar as the feisty and ultimately self-destructive Carmen Diaz, doesn’t pack quite as much punch when she introduces the familiar tune Fame in Act I, but she finds her mojo with it when she reprises it in the finale. 

Within the vocal numbers the ensemble dance work creates the show’s upbeat energy and even more dancing could lift the musical to greater heights. Punctuating songs like Can’t Keep It Down, Argentine Tango and Dance Class, movement is consistently tight and enhances the lyrics. The demands of this punchy choreography, which mainly features jazz, ballet and hip hop, are similar to the demands of SYTYCD which requires dancers to hit movements hard for short periods of time and create larger than life lines. Here performers like Camilla Jakimowicz, Amy Campbell and Stephen Tannos are in good stead, along with the other SYTYCD recruits who make the most of the bursts of dancing that pop up throughout the show. 

Despite some technical shortcomings and mundane musical theatre conventions, Fame The Musical is an enjoyable night’s entertainment. Whether or not it will live forever remains to be seen, but in the meantime, rising Australian talents are honing performance skills on the boards of one of Melbourne’s great theatres. That can only be good news for the burgeoning Australian commercial theatre industry.  

Fame: The Musical

Directed and choreographed by Kelley Abbey

Venue: Regent Theatre |191-197 Collins Street, Melbourne
Dates: 15 April – May 30, 2010
Times: Wed – Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 6.30pm
Matinees: Wed & Sun @ 1pm, Sat @ 2pm
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012

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