You’ll either be a Fame! lover – or you won’t. There isn’t much in the way of midground with musicals. The film came first, directed by the wonderful Alan Parker, released in 1980. It went on to spawn a TV series and in 1988, a musical, both loosely based on the film.
The stage version gives us a cast of characters, all of whom attend the High School of Performing Arts. We meet fame-hungry Carmen, sweetly star-struck Serena, Nick, her peanut-butter-commercial-pin-up, Joe, the actor utterly out of touch with his emotions, Schlomo, the saxophone protegé and a cluster of other students, all of whom yearn to be famous. Their long-suffering teachers coax, coerce and encourage them to work hard and make the most of their talents. But as Carmen discovers, fame isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.
Musicals are tricky fish that require pretty much flawless execution. When you’re veering between spoken word, a boisterous band and full ensemble song and dance routines, you need a brilliantly drilled cast who can keep up. This performance is impeded by some hopefully only first night glitches with sound levels but a strong impression also that this cast is brand new to this stage.
What that means is a bunch of inaudible lyrics in the first half (better in the second) and some rather ungainly choreography in the group numbers. Dancin’ on the Sidewalk in the second act looks particularly unrehearsed. Though, if you’re being kind, perhaps the dancing is intended to reflect the varying dancing talents of the students at the Academy – they’re not all there to study dance. The overall production lacks the polish that this talented young cast are, most likely, more than capable of giving it.
But set that alongside the joy of having a cast the actual age of the characters, something you rarely see in professional theatre. Kudos to Edinburgh University Footlights for playing to their strength.
There are also some wonderful performances. Alice Hoult as the besotted acting student and Adam Makepeace as Nick make a wonderful pairing, performing excellent solos in their own right and a delightful duet. Mimi Joffroy as the ill-fated Carmen excels in the devastating number, In LA, that poignantly documents her dashed dreams. Connie McFarlane delivers a cracking vocal performance in the rather peculiar comic interlude of a song, Mabel’s Prayer. Liam Bradbury brings a nice swagger to Jack’s Rap. Brett Mccarthy-Harrop is bursting with feisty attitude as the wannabe rock drummer. And Hannah Barnetson as snooty but secretly struggling to make ends meet dancer Iris, gives an impressively showy performance that looks like it would benefit from a bit more space.
Director Caitlin Powell makes good use of the Church Hill Theatre stage. The set, though basic, provides a good platform for the action and does a good job of evoking the dilapidated performing acts school. And choreographer Caili Crow brings a boisterous energy to the 80s inspired dance numbers, even if there is a little too much gyrating of hips to be entirely authentic.
For all the rough edges, the audience has a famous time. A fellow audience member sweeps me along exuberantly with her once it is done, regaling me with the talents, the costumes, the dancing, the singing, the hair, the make-up – the wonder of the talents that put such a big and complicated show together. “There was so much to look at, wherever you looked,” she says. This show is bursting with energy. It just needs a wee bit more polish to make sure this audience member remembers their name.