Review by John Lombard
It's a confident show that leaves space in the program for autographs. But this isn't 'Mediocrity' the musical, this is 'Fame', and this bravura production leaves no doubt that we will remember the names of some of these young performers.
Set in New York City's High School of the Performing Arts in the early 1980s, Fame tells a universal story of adolescence, except that these students are all talented and highly motivated: "hard work" is the motto of the teachers, and the students take this to heart. There are no slackers here.
As a movie stretched into a tv series and packaged into a musical, the rough edges of the source material have been sanded off. This is a high school where wealth clashes with poverty and the pressure on students is intense, but true failure is never part of their lives. The music and look of the show strive for raw authenticity, but the dilemmas of the students feel quaint: Fame has become Happy Days.
Inevitably this large ensemble cast has to rush through story arcs in limited individual stage time, but amazingly each character is distinctive. Part of the credit goes to gloriously lurid costumes by designer Suzan Cooper, which make every character instantly recognisable. But there was a sense that the actors knew their characters perfectly. Even in large dance numbers, the individuality of each character was evident: the actors had perfect certainty about the kind of people they were playing.
The entire cast did a a fantastic job, but some highlights included a brilliant performance by Jack Tinga as a black student with lots of bravado, Patrick Galen-Mules as horny comic relief, and Nina Wood as a perpetually hungry dancer. But the scene-stealer was Maddy Betts as the ferociously ambitious Carmen - also the only character to deal with genuine tragedy.
Director Jarrad West has given us an unrelenting, almost overpowering show. Both musical director Katrina Tang and choreographer Michelle Heine are tuned in to the relentless vibe of the music. But the grit in the music does not quite make it into the story. The students receive something transcendent through the arts, and that rarely comes free: by being willing to break rules and take risks to achieve her dream, Carmen felt like an amabassador from the real world.
Fame is an energising show, most notable for brilliant work by a young cast hungry to make their mark - perhaps after it all it would be wise to get some signatures in the yearbook-themed program.