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FAME: The Musical
Music by Steven Margoshes, lyrics by Jacques Levy
Book by José Fernandez
Bring On Tomorrow Co and BMO
Firehall Arts Centre
From $20 at www.bringontomorrowco.com
FAME – The Musical was a mid-1980s spinoff of Fame the movie and appeared at the same time as Fame the popular series was running on TV. All these shows tell fictionalized stories about the aspiring young dancers, actors and musicians at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. I have to say that the script of FAME – The Musical is pretty awful: shapeless, full of bad dialogue and clichés. Fortunately, the Bring On Tomorrow Company’s ambitious production at the Firehall serves as a showcase for an impressive array of musical theatre talent.
In the stage musical—different in some plot points and much of the music from the movie—we follow the Class of ’86 over three years from their arrival at the school to graduation. The central characters include a sexy troubled Latina, an illiterate street-smart Black guy, a Jewish boy living in his father’s shadow, a girl bullied by her stage mother, an overweight dancer, duelling teachers and more (but not a single queer character), all performing within director/choreographer Lalainia Lindbjerg Strelau’s ensemble of 29 plus Michael Creber’s five-piece band.
In addition to the anthemic title song, the show features some other good musical numbers. And whether in solos, duos or ensemble, the talented cast delivers with style. Top of the pops for me is Madeleine Suddaby as Mabel, whose dance career may be hindered by her not being wispy enough but whose powerful, soulful voice blows the roof off a couple of numbers. Synthia Yusuf is very good as the tragic Latina Carmen, and the three kids who put together a band—Erik Gow (Schlomo), Michelle Creber (Lambchops) and Gabriel Brown (Goody)—do some terrific work.
The duos of Michelle Bardach as Serena and Chris Adams as Serena’s crush, Nick; Hal Rogers as reading-challenged Tyrone and Lindsey Britten as Iris, the elegant dancer with her own issues; and Dimitrios Stephanoy as bad boy Joe and Shona Reid as sweet mama-bullied Doris whom he befriends—all have nice scenes together and separately. Another impressive duo are the two teachers, Ms. Sherman (Jennifer Suratos) and Ms. Bell (Sharon Crandall), who prove that grown-ups can sing with power, too.
Strelau’s choreography shines in the exuberant, exhilarating ensemble numbers where the large cast gets to show off their dance moves. Less successful is Strelau’s staging, using actors as if they were extras in a film, gathered in groups pretending to talk or crossing the stage for no good reason.
I started acting in the 1960s at a college in New York where half the kids in the drama program had gone to Fame High. They were an impressively talented group, but no more so than this wonderful Vancouver cast of FAME.