Review: Fame the Musical

Charlotte Waygood 30 April 2019
Image Credit: Cambridge Arts Theatre

★★★★★

It is Fame’s thirtieth anniversary, and the Sell A Door Productions’ UK tour has risen to the occasion with an explosive and energetic performance. It’s big, loud, showy and extremely enjoyable. A musical about a group of young, talented wannabe performers at an arts school in New York, directed by Nick Winston, the cast races from musical number to musical number with hardly a moment’s breath, performing flawlessly synchronised choreography in vibrant choruses, as well as quieter, more heartfelt solos about teenage love.

Technically, the show is outstanding: in the opening number, “Pray/Hard Work”, lighting designer Prema Mehta works well with the rest of the crew, using spotlights to distract the audience while the props are quickly and smoothly changed elsewhere on the stage. As an audience member, it was almost dizzying to look back at centre stage and see that a completely different setting had been created in what seemed like no time at all. Morgan Large’s set design also has nice touches – for example, the back wall is covered with actors’ headshots of the cast themselves. This becomes particularly poignant during the final tribute to Carmen (Stephanie Rojas), a student that dies of a drug overdose, when all the pictures turn dark except for hers.

While Fame is at heart an ensemble piece, a few actors stand out: Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford) and Carmen both touchingly show strength of personality and passion while hinting at the inner insecurities and challenges they face. Rojas especially gives a haunting performance after Carmen succumbs to her drug addiction, not keeping eye contact with the cast and swinging rapidly between emptiness and intense emotion. Another notable cast member is Louisa Beadel, playing the slightly smaller part of Lambchops, who maintains a fierce, prickly energy from start to finish. It is also wonderful to see her and other musicians performing live on-stage; it contributes to the spontaneity and passion for performance that runs throughout. The cast as a whole works excellently as a team, often also adding individual comedic asides, such as Tyrone’s silent prayer of thanks after he finds a girlfriend.

Fame has an important story to tell, dealing with problematic issues such as drug abuse, sexuality, racism and love. Somewhere among all the musical numbers it also tells a heart-warming account of adolescence. It holds something that we all remember and relate to, whether it’s slightly embarrassing teenage sexuality (“I Can’t Keep It Down”), unrequited love (“Let’s Play a Love Scene”) or, at its heart, the longing for glamour and glory – “Fame!”.

Want to see ‘Fame!’ live in London? Head over to Seatplan to check out ticket options!