Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

fame cast

Fame - The Musical

Sutton Arts Theatre


Whether they will live forever is debatable but there is a fair chance some names will be remembered from this classy production of David De Silva’s musical set in New York’s High School of Performing Arts.

Sutton Arts had a reputation, which has now turned into a tradition, of a big summer musical, a production which has attracted a large number of young performers into the company – unusual in any amateur theatre group, especially one without a youth theatre – and boy, do they bring some talent and enthusiasm along with them.

The 1988 musical is based on the 1980 film, which in turn spawned a six series hit TV series; it has been largely rewritten from the film but is still set among students at the school, a school which, in real life, can boast the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Liza Minnelli, Eartha Kitt, and Suzanne Vega among past pupils.

In PA’s particular crop for this year there is Sarah Riches as Serena, shy, quiet but with a smouldering ambition is to be an actress, especially in classical romantic roles such as Héloïse, Cressida, or, top of the list, Juliet.


nick and serina

Sarah Riches as Serena and Tim Gough as Nick

Singing in this show is generally good but she takes it up a notch when she launches into the bittersweet Let’s Play a Love Scene which is quite beautifully sung, pitch perfect and full of emotion.

It comes as she stands alone after we find she has fallen for Nick Piazza, played with commendable intensity by SAT regular Tim Gough, a student with more than a hint of obsession, living and breathing everything from Stanislavsky to Strindberg with a burning, as in forest fire, need to be a classical actor. Nick leads in songs such as Hard Work and his own anthem of ambition, I want to Make Magic.

Then there is Joe Vegas, a bad boy played with splendid cheeky comedy by Robbie Newton. Joe is an all action motormouth and a groin led individual with such self-explanatory songs as Can’t Keep It Down, sung in a fashion one might describe as bawdy. Not one for maiden aunts!

It is a far cry from his appearance as the brutal Stan in A Streetcar Named Desire, where the object of his desires here, Carmen Diaz, is played by Phebe Jackson. who plyed his wife, Stella there.

It shows the range of the pair. Jackson first caught the attention as Maria in West Side Story and here she is among the Latinos again as cocky, fame obsessed Carmen, who wants . . . no . . . who demands, instant stardom.

She quits school and heads off to LA with a dubious agent, gets molested and ends up as a stripper returning, broke and near destitute and it is at that point where Jackson takes the part by the scruff of it’s drug-addled neck and finally shows us what she is made of with a splendid version of the ironic anthem, In L.A.. 


Phebe Jackson as Carmen

Kyle Henderson gives us a splendid performance as the dyslexic kid with attitude from the hood, laying it down with Tyrone’s Rap. Old Tyrone also shows some mean dance moves as well, not that he was alone in that.

Husband and wife directing team Emily Armstrong and Dexter Whitehead have worked again with well-known choreographer Anna Forster (West Side Store, The Wedding Singer, panto) to add some polish and interest to the routines, routines that must have taken a lot of rehearsal time for an amateur cast.

Among the dancers is Iris, played by Aimee Horner, a ballet dancer, seen as rich but actually poor, and battling Mabel, danced by Sophie McCoy. Mabel’s battle is against weight and she really belts out her own anthem, Mabel’s Prayer.

While Joe’s attraction to Carmen is at the lust end of emotions, budding violinist Schlomo, played by Ollie Farrelly has feelings which are much deeper and leads the emotional finale with her song, Bring on Tomorrow.

Then there are the staff. There is Esther Sherman, played by Collette Forsyth, the strict English teacher, who believes in tough love, which works on some, but not Tyrone – a collision of attitudes looming there, methinks.

And Esther has the ability to rub everyone up the wrong way, clashing with dance teacher Greta Bell, which is good for us as the combative duet between Collette Forsyth’s Esther and Louise Farmer’s Greta is a real musical highlight with great voices and convincing passion.

Greta sees art as the only thing that matters, Esther sees education as the bedrock, the safety net for the 90 per cent of students who will never scrape even the lowliest of a living from the arts.

Forsyth holds the stage with her powerful teacher’s anthem, These are my Children, as she pours her heart out from behind her strict shield in another fine moment.


Kyle Henderson as Tyrone

There is fine support from Will Young – no, not that one – as Goody King, the trumpeter in Schlomo’s rock band and Kate Lowe as the band’s rock-chick drummer Grace Lamb with Lee Connelly as drama teacher Mr Myers and Rich Howell as music teacher Mr Sheinkopf.

Then there is the strong ensemble of student singers and dancers who never look like a mob and, a small but important touch, always look like they are doing something on stage, acting as a crowd, or onlookers, rather than just making up numbers and being scenery.

Music is once again under musical director Tom Brookes conducting an excellent nine-piece band with David Ashton’s intelligent lighting design adding an extra dimension to the more dramatic moments.

Set design at Sutton is always a challenge. Most theatres have wings and flies, Sutton Arts has walls and a ceiling, so for a big musical it is a question of what you see is what you get and Mark Nattrass has been clever with his design with a rear platform and a series of rotating panels which can be moved around to create the illusion of classrooms, street scenes and so on – we even have a car, headlights blazing, à la Grease Lightnin’, popping out for the smoke launched encore of the title song, Fame.

On the review night gremlins in the sound system caused problems in the first act, but all credit to the performers for battling on with no one being knocked noticeably out of their stride, not easy by any means. The interval provided a chance to isolate the problem which meant second act sound was much improved.

It’s another feelgood, excellent musical from Sutton Arts which leaves you looking forward to next year’s offering, Guys and Dolls based on the wonderful tales of Damon Runyan. Meanwhile Fame, despite the song, doesn’t live forever, but runs to 30-06-18.

Roger Clarke


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