REVIEW: Fame The Musical (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★

Fame is nothing short of a global phenomenon. First appearing as a major motion picture in 1980, it has had continued success as a six-season television series, a musical and a 2009 film remake. Conceived from the unforgettable Academy Award-winning film and subsequent Emmy Award-winning television series, Fame The Musical was significantly rewritten from the previous adaptations, with an almost entirely new score. Debuting in 1988 in Florida, the show received considerable commercial success and has since been seen in over 15 countries and performed in multiple languages. Celebrating the musicals 30th Anniversary a new UK tour stops at the New Wimbledon Theatre giving audiences once again a chance to “live forever” and “learn how to fly”.

Set in 1984, the last year of real-life New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts on 46th Street, Fame The Musical is a bittersweet but ultimately inspiring story of a diverse group of students as they commit to four years of gruelling artistic and academic work. With candour, humour and insight, the show explores the issues that confront many young people including prejudice, identity, self-worth, literacy, sexuality, substance abuse and perseverance.

The kid’s from Fame for this production include Keith Jack as Nick, Molly McGuire as Serena, Jamal Kane Crawford as Tyrone, Jorgie Porter as Iris, Simon Anthony as Schlomo, Stephanie Rojas as Carmen, Albey Brookes as Joe, Alexander Zane as Goody, Hayley Johnston as Mabel and Louisa Beadel as Lambchops. Supporting their students are teachers Mica Paris as Miss Sherman, Katie Warsop as Miss Bell, Cameron Johnson as Mr Myers and Duncan Smith as Mr Scheinkopf.

As Nick, West End star Keith Jack performed with aplomb. His versatility as an actor really shone during the intimate scenes with Serena and due to this, their relationship as the “will they, won’t they” couple was very believable. As Serena, Molly McGuire gave a sweet, quirky performance. Working hard throughout to make the script work for her, her performance of ‘Think Of Meryl Streep’ became one of the highlights of the evening. Jamal Kane Crawford’s performance of troubled student Tyrone was wonderful. In Fame The Musical, Tyrone is supposed to be the best dancer in the school and in this production, Crawford truly was. Hollyoaks’ Jorgie Porter gave a sweet performance as dancer Iris and was more than capable of verbally fighting back when challenged by Tyrone. Alexander Zane made the most out of trumpet playing Goody and performed with a comedic flare that helped to make the production fresh and fun. Simon Anthony played a lovable Schlomo, displaying wonderful talent playing piano and singing throughout while Albey Brookes performed a cheeky Joe and Louisa Beadel enjoyed a deliciously defiant drummer in Lambchops. Soul superstar Mica Paris served some sultry lower tones during ‘These Are My Children’ but seemed to struggle with the higher notes and shifted into head voice during ‘Teachers Argument’ which I found not suitable for such a high tension song closing Act One. In Fame, Carmen really tires to protect herself with a false hard, defiant persona when in reality she is just as vulnerable as the rest of the young students, a lesson she learns tragically too late. Stephanie Rojas performance of Carmen was exceptional and gave a show stopping rendition of ‘In LA’ midway through Act Two. The song is sung by a drugged out Carmen who has returned to New York after quitting school and heading to LA in pursuit of fulfilling her dreams. This song could be taken too far and become overly dramatic but Rojas’ performance is the perfect mix of touching and affronting needed to pull off Carmen’s fear, desperation and downfall. Bravo!

While the cast work extremely hard throughout and I enjoyed the stomp-esque tap and body rhythm section in the ‘The Junior Festival’ at the top of Act Two, there is no denying Fame The Musical isn’t perfect. The script itself has little nuance and no subtly. For example, as Carmen discusses being in Los Angeles she’s asked if she met any movie stars and she replies “You can read the names of the dead ones … up and down Hollywood Boulevard… the boulevard of broken dreams…” which leads into her tragic ‘In LA’ number. While this isn’t a fault of this production, it’s often hard to get past the vapid dialogue and cliqued characters. Having seen the show numerous times I was hoping this production would enhance vocals or scene changes to cleverly camouflage the issues mentioned above. Numerous distracting scene changes and a basic scored vocal performance were presented which lead me thinking that if Fame The Musical does in fact want to “live forever”, a major re-write of dialogue, a slight re-working of the score and a not so detailed locale-based design could achieve this.

While the show was well performed throughout, with so many talent shows and astounding performances available for the public to watch on platforms like YouTube, Fame The Musical needs an update to compete. Selladoor’s current UK tour of Fame The Musical is a nostalgic look back at a global phenomenon and the audience quickly jumped to their feet during the finale to sing along to their favourite earworm, “Baby look at me and tell me what you see…”

Reviewed by Stuart James


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