By Bebe Vocong
If you’re old enough to remember Fame the television series, inspired by the 1980 movie with the same title, then you have a good idea of what this musical is all about. It is the story of the last graduating class of New York’s High School of Performing Arts before the program was moved to Lincoln Center in 1984.
Although there is a large ethnically diverse ensemble cast, only a handful of characters are involved in the three main story lines. There is Tyrone Jackson (James T. Lane), the tough black dancer from Harlem who loves to dance, but can hardly read or write. For this performance, Lane replaced Dwayne Chattman–being the understudy for the role– but nevertheless he is superb as the troubled Tyrone. Lane’s effortless dancing, like all of the other actors’, is terrific and looks absolutely natural. Tyrone’s rap number and the glow-in-the-dark dance sequence, "Dancin’ on the Sidewalk," add a bit of modern funk to the production.
Carmen Diaz (Natasha Neary) is the sexy Spanish student who jeopardizes her academic schooling for instant stardom in Los Angeles. Her impatience with achieving fame and success as an actress leads her to drug abuse. Carmen’s tragic story epitomizes the sleazy side of show business. Neary’s performance can best be described as a giddy Jennifer Lopez in a good way. And her laugh is unforgettable.
There is also the mediocre love story involving the talented but reserved actor, Nick Piazza (Gavin Creel) and his classmate Serena Katz (Erika Shannon). These two characters lack the special stand-out quality and because of this I found it difficult to empathize with them. This sub story is not as amusing as the other two and a bit too melodramatic.
Notable mentions go to Catrice Joseph as the overweight dancer Mabel Washington. The musical number, "Mabel’s Prayer," exhibits her extraordinary singing ability and her comic talent. However, it is Jose Restrepo who provides the most hilarious musical/dance number of the show called "Can’t keep it down." His portrayal of the horny Joe "Jose" Vegas is very amusing. It is unfortunate that his character is not explored more throughout the production.
Fame is facetious at times even though it is a drama that deals with the harsh realities of life. The opening scene is a bit too long and it could have done without a couple of the more anguish driven musical numbers like "These Are My Children." This production did not spare any expenses in the costume or set design and the choreography is very impressive. The stage curtain is amazing and so is the mirror wall reflecting the dancers on the stage.
The title song "Fame" is sung in conjunction with another musical piece called "There She Goes!" Neary’s enthusiasm really shines through in her singing and dancing during this number. At the end of the show, "Fame" is performed again in its entirety during the encore. It is a complete show stopper. Accolades go to the entire cast for maintaining the high level of energy in their performance from start to finish.
Fame is a real thrill to watch and is a great musical. There are no preposterous happy endings here. Still the underlying message is an uplifting one. There is nothing like the idyllic dreams of youths to make one want to strive for success.