Theatre Review: Fame, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: Fame

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy Drama
Date: March 11 2019
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Fame is a story that any veteran movie-lover or theatre-goer will be familiar with. Having begun life as a film in 1980 and been followed up with a television series (and even a movie remake in 2009), Fame has become a staple of the theatre stage, with its original tour having started back in 1988 in Miami, Florida, and with a multitude of tours around the world since then. This includes several runs for the UK, and the latest version has just arrived at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre.

Fame tells the story of several aspiring students who have passed their auditions to learn their craft for singing, dancing and acting at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. Their backgrounds cover a number of ages, personalities, ethnicities and social skills, but they all share a flair for performing and a passion to succeed, and all have the ultimate goal of one day making a name for themselves by connecting with an audience. Along the way, each of the central characters has their own ups and downs, with some of their fates intertwined.

There is Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford), a highly-skilled dancer with a fondness for hip hop, but with a reduced interest in actual studying; we later discover that dyslexia is a contributing factor. He catches the eye of Iris (Jorgie Porter), a prim and proper young girl whose primary focus initially is just to better herself and avoid awkward social interactions. Then there is Joe (Albey Brookes), who views himself as the typical ladies’ man with some seductive dance moves and raunchy song lyrics, yet he seems to turn off several classmates of the opposite sex. Mabel (Hayley Johnston) goes by the “see-food diet: I see food and I eat it”, but her weight issues hold her back on occasion.

Nick (Keith Jack) had already achieved mild notoriety for appearing in a light-hearted TV commercial, but now he wants to make it as a serious actor. His desire to put work at the front and party at the back bothers Serena (Molly McGuire), who has developed romantic feelings for Nick and is distraught that he won’t reciprocate, even believing he is gay at one point as she cannot fathom why he doesn’t want to have sex with her. And then there is Carmen (Stephanie Rojas), a Latin-American lady who ultimately has the most tragic tale once she leaves the school early to chase her dream of Hollywood stardom. There are also Schlomo (Simon Anthony), Goody (Alexander Zane) and Lambchops (Louise Beadel), who are an aspiring band, as well as a number of teachers, in particular Miss Sherman (Mica Paris), who has great authority at the school.

As you can see, there are various stories being told, but they are all handled with patience and consideration, so it never becomes confusing as to what is going on. It’s clear to see how the characters and their story arcs are developing, and you also feel increasing sympathy and support for each of them; there isn’t anybody that you would look at it and have a negative viewpoint, even the cocky yet amusing Joe. The duration of 150 minutes (with a 20-minute interval included) ensures that the show doesn’t overstay its welcome, and I personally loved the backdrop consisting of many photographic blocks for the students which would change colours based on the scenes; at one point, it was lit up to display the American flag, and at another point, it spelt out the word FAME.

Speaking of which, Fame is unsurprisingly the musical highlight of the evening, and especially for the second rendition as the evening closed, the audience were up dancing and singing along to this timeless hit. There are other musical highlights, though, and perhaps none more than a simply stunning version of These Are My Children by Miss Sherman; Mica Paris’ high notes brought the Empire to its feet for a standing ovation. There is comedy, raw emotion (especially when Carmen sings In LA), and romance; though there are some strong double entendres at times, the sexual themes never become overpowering, and the budding relationships hit the sweet spot (quite literally). The costumes range from authentic for the era to deliberately ridiculous (Joe has to sport a somewhat revealing attire when playing Romeo in an in-house production of Romeo & Juliet). And, of course, the dance moves are superb, and may leave the biggest lasting impression on attendees.

It helps if you’ve seen either of the movies or the television show, but even if you haven’t and this is your first experience with the story, Fame is a fabulous night at the theatre, providing just the right combination of song, dance, humour, drama and spectacle. It runs at the Empire for the remainder of the week, and I urge you to check it out!

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent