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Fame The Musical: New Wimbledon Theatre (and touring)

March 6, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 23rd February 2019).

Second week running for Saturday matinee nostalgia at the New Wimbledon Theatre. This time a decade forward for “Fame: The Musical.” Set in the years 1980 to 1984 a new class start paying in the hope of stardom.

Taking its cue from the original movie rather than the later TV series, this is a proper, grown up show with only the title song present in an otherwise original score from Steve Margoshes and Jacques Levy, book by Jose Fernandez.

In fact, there are similarities to the original film storyline. An illiterate and highly talented black teenager, a boy / girl “is he gay?” thread, an exploited and abused young woman and someone who isn’t who they appear to be. Oh, and the teachers are just plain weird, in a caring sort of way.

Anyway, it’s a terrific Morgan Large set, graduate faces on a huge wall looking down on desks trundling on and off and a flexible moving staircase unit, aided by Lee Tassie’s period (one hilarious) outfits. Prema Mehta knows when to make the lighting flash and when to focus in on a scene, Ben Harrison keeps the loudest passages audible for Mark Crossland and Tim Whiting’s musicians.

The absolute delight, though is Nick Winston’s (with Ryan-Lee Seager) direction and in particular choreography. It’s high impact, inventive, expressive yet subtle by turn. More than that, whoever is dance captain (not credited, though Cameron Johnson is as resident director) keeps the touring cast at the very top of their game.

It may have been a quieter than average Saturday afternoon at the end of the week’s run, with an evening show still to go, but the entire cast gave everything every ounce of energy and the discipline in the big routines outshone some permanent West End work the monkey has seen.

Pretty easy to break down the individual character performances, too. Headline name Mica Paris (Miss Sherman) acts as well as she sings, “These Are My Children” stopping act two – as we believed her. Fellow teachers Katie Warsop (Miss Bell) does well in good duet “The Teachers’ Argument”), while Cameron Johnson (Mr Myers) is the acting teacher any aspiring actor would want, and probably anyone seeking therapy, come to that.

Duncan Smith (Mr Scheinkopf) is nicely eccentric, but sadly doesn’t get a song dedicated to him in the canteen as his predecessor did.

Among the students, Jorgie Porter (Iris) is a surprise. Only knowing her from “Hollyoaks,”

it was instantly clear (confirmed by her biography) that she has studied ballet to an advanced level, and has forgotten none of it.

Paired with Jamal Crawford (Tyrone) theirs is an impressive match. Crawford has a depth to his acting that will take him further, on this evidence.

Someone who has already come a distance is Molly McGuire (Serena). The monkey remembers her from “Closer To Heaven” at the tiny Union Theatre. Seeing her “Let’s Play A Love Scene” and discovering herself in “Think Of Meryl Streep” hold a theatre 20 times the size is a progress to celebrate, and just another step, hopefully.

Object of her desires, Keith Jack (Nick) does equally fine work, and is totally credible with “I Want To Make Magic.”

Serena Matthews covered the role of Carmen impressively. The best story arc (and probably the best number, “In L.A.”) is hers and she gives it the knock-out emotion it needs. Simon Anthony (Schlomo) gives her the sympathy she needs and in doing so highlights his own abilities to create an impactful bond with a fellow actor, a difficult talent.

Hayley Johnston (Mabel) can deliver a bad joke well – probably putting her front of the line for future major panto work. Louisa Beadel (Lambchops) knows character work, and can also play dark comedy making it look easy. Albey Brookes (Joe) has timing and stage presence, while Alexander Zane (Goody) does well in his role.

Backed by an energetic ensemble the show is lively and almost always engaging. Drifting with a little too much padding at the beginning of the second act, and one strange crawling spider-taxi at the end are probably the only real issues. The ending is no cop-out, though, and the realities of training to join the hardest profession in the world are presented with a truth reaching every corner of the auditorium.

 

The show tours until September, when it comes to the Peacock Theatre in the West End. Hopefully this cast will stay together. If so, they as well as the show itself are worth catching.

 

4 stars.

 

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton. Used by kind permission.

 

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