Stephanie Rojas as Carmen Diaz in a high octane dance number


The Alexandra Theatre


Thirty years on and this always entertaining musical has been slicked-up big time and given a high-tech 21st century makeover to bring it slap bang up to date for a modern audience.

The story is the same, wannabe stars aching for fame at the legendary New York School of Performing Arts, hoping to join a profession where the majority of the entrants will eventually either give up or spend most of their time working in bars or selling hamburgers.

We join them at the start of their first year, bright eyed, bushy tailed and full of dreams. There is Carmen played by Stephanie Rojas, the feisty, even angry, Latina with a chip on her shoulder the size of Manhatten. She wants - no let's be honest here - she demands instant fame.

She leads everyone in the show’s iconic eponymous anthem with a fine voice, but it is in act 2, as the Carmen destroyed by her broken dreams, when she comes into her own with a quite moving, beautifully sung In LA.

Then there is Joe, a groin-led individual, whose thoughts, and indeed hands, seem forever trapped in the carnal, he can’t act, can’t dance and singing is of the comic, and rather lewd, variety - Can't Keep it Down - but then, there is always stand-up . . . he is cleverly played in a sort of loveable,class joker style by Albey Brookes.

Nick, though, is driven. Dragged from audition to audition since the age of three by his mother, with an agent and appearance in TV ads on his c.v., Nick wants to be a real actor, trained, skilled – legitimate. Keith Jack seems to improve with every role since he was runner up in BBC’s Any Dream Will Do in 2007 and gives us a Nick with a strong voice, as we would expect, in songs such as I want to make magic, and a love for his art so intensethat he cannot recognise the love in his heart for Serena.

This is a delightful performance from Molly McGuire as the nervous, shy, star struck, yet talented Serena She shows a terrific voice tailor made for musical theatre in her big number, Let’s Play a Love Scene. One to watch.

Then we have Tyrone, played with a bristling arrogance by Jamel Kane Crawford, whose fragile exterior full of bravado, laid back, oozing confidence one minute, aggressive ready to fight the next, hides a secret that fills him – and, sadly, many others in the world, with a needless shame that could blight his life.

Tyrone can dance, we can see that, but as for his academic studies? The boy needs help, which comes in the form of first tough love, then practical endeavour by school principal Miss Sheuman in the competent hands of Mica Paris.

Mica has a wealth of experience to call on and it shows with a confident performance and a superb, gospel style These are My Children to send a tingle down your spine. For that one song the stage, indeed, the whole theatre, is hers.

tyrone and iris

Jorgie Porter as Iris and Jamel Kane Crawford as Tyrone in thier pas de deux

Another believer in Tyrone is Iris, the rich girl who isn’t. The best dancer in the class, played with an innocent air by Jorgie Porter from Hollyoaks. Her pas de deux with Tyrone is nicely danced.

There are other standout performances from the likes of Haley Johnston as Mabel who fights a constant battle to lose weight - constantly losing that is. A fight not helped by her charitable intent to give anything edible a home in her stomach. Her gospel number Mabel’s Prayer is real fun.

There is Schlomo played by Simon Anthony, son of a virtuoso violinist, who wants to make his own mark in his own way. He falls for Carmen in a big way, even inviting her into his band – where he plays a mean piano and acoustic guitar. His is the well sung tribute Carmen and his doomed love affair.

In his band are Alexander Zane as Goody, on sax and Louisa Beadel as rock chick Lambchops who can really make drums sing and doubles up on soprano sax, with all three combining undoubted musical talent with some fine acting.

Along with a hard working ensemble we also have the rest of the staff with Katie Warsop as Miss Bell, showing why she is also resident choreographer with an easy elegant style, Duncan Smith as the Jewish music teacher Mr Scheinkopf and Cameron Johnson as Mr Myers, the drama teacher who tells students they have to find themselves before they can become someone else on stage. Johnson is also resident director.

Along with the on-stage musicians we also have a four piece band under musical director Dustin Conrad who sound a lot bigger than they are thanks to a well-constructed sound design from Ben Harrison who manages the delicate balance of band, vocals and speech with aplomb.

It is also a well-balanced cast, strong in every part, and well deserving the standing ovation generated by a finale reprise of Fame, but the real stars of the show never appear on stage, yet they are the ones who have made this the best production of Fame I have yet seen.

So, take a bow producers led by Sellador, director and choreographer Nick Winston and lighting designer Prema Meta. Her design creates drama, pinpoints passion and emotion and provides constant interest – what did we ever do before computerised, motorised stage lighting and banks of LEDs? She uses them all, intelligently, to the full.

Then there is designer Morgan Large who gives us a set with back and side walls of around 90 black and white headshots, like an American high school yearbook of the 1950s; photographs of past – and present - cast members of productions of Fame, a wall of memories.

The photos light up in white, red or blue, providing an ever changing backdrop, even at one point portraying a symbolised stars and stripes.

A wire fence panel provides outdoor scenes, an industrial stairs and gantry give height and variety and two wheel-on banks of lockers, doubling as a blackboard provide the school scenes along with desks on wheels. It is a clever, imaginative and deceptively simple set facilitating instant changes of moods and scenes.

From production to performance this is a cracking show, giving a much-loved musical a new lease of life for a new generation, sparkling entertainment - as I said, it's the best production I have seen and, just so you know, it has a few names to remember . . . To 24-11-18.

Roger Clarke


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