Rising Cambridge stars?

JW 11 November 2007

A lyric from ‘Hard Work’, the second number in Fame tells us, ‘This ain’t no movie show’, but the images from the film of the same name; from the video for Eric Prydz ‘Call On Me’; and even from kindred 80’s films such as Flashdance, are the images that this cast and crew were contending against last night. So did they beat them? Or join them?

I witnessed a disappointingly clumsy start; the ‘class of ’84’ were let down by sluggish spot lights, an intrusive gauze, disappointing costumes, and the audience’s necessary acceptance that not all of the American accents were going to be top-drawer. However, all was quickly forgiven with the velvety voice of ‘Nick Piazzo’ (a consummate performance by Tom Cane, who, coupled with beautifully comic and sweet Rachel Bagnall as ‘Serena Katz’, had the audience convinced from the very beginning).

Moments of note in Act One included ‘Can’t Keep It Down (sung by a high-octane David Howell) and some charming characterisation by the teachers. However, there were blanket problems with audibility. In fact, for a musical about divas, the entire cast were remarkably softly spoken and wholesome, exceptions to this being a fantastically springy Vonda Shepard-like ‘Mabel’ (Vicky Greenhalgh) and a vivacious, scary-spice of a ‘Carman’, complete with leopard print (Olivia-Marie Purton) who together gave the show attitude, and vocally sent suitable shivers around the auditorium.

Yet there remained a surprising lack of ‘sex’ in the production. This is not to say that the cast aren’t very attractive (even ‘Mabel’, supposedly ‘the world’s fattest dancer’ is lithe and lovely), but up until the Act Two number where the fishnets, backwards chairs, and orgiastic writhing were broken out, I was severely doubting these kids’ capacity to ‘ride’ anyone’s ‘heart til it breaks’. Sarah Wilkinson as ‘Iris’, and James Mawson as ‘Tyrone’ both managed to ‘let go’ in order to help remedy the production’s slight lack of ‘fire’, and yet kept their movements perfectly controlled . Mawson, fully fulfilled the most difficult role to cast in Cambridge (the illiterate, ex street-gang kid) and it felt something of a privilege to be allowed to watch him and Wilkinson dance so mesmerisingly together on the cleverly laid out stage.

Legend has it, that when actors used to ask Kubrick for direction on their character’s motivations, he would reply ‘How should I know? I’m not RADA.’ This highlights something of what is so great about Fame as a musical itself. It communicates an idea of show biz success perhaps not understood in England – ‘Screw RADA, screw Shakespeare, I want to be on top of a taxi in Times Square, and then I’ll split-leap off it. It’ll be hot’. This production gets this across: especially with the finale comprising ‘Bring On Tomorrow’ and the title song ‘Fame’. These last fifteen minutes are complete, exuberant gold, as the young stars have the power to know that they’re indestructible . The choreography is vigorous and brilliant, with plenty of the ‘one-arm-shot-into-the-air’ motion on ‘Fame!’ that everyone knows and loves. A very strong show, with plenty to recommend it and moments that make you want to dance on the Park Street sidewalk on your way home.