>fame: the musical by jacobsen entertainment and img

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 4 jul 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: *1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff


>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Nostalgia is in the air these days.

Take a stroll down Broadway and the biggest neon lights no longer belong to new productions but rather revivals. Revivals such as Rogers and Hammerstein's classic musical 'Oklahoma!', 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' (inspired by the 1967 Julie Andrews hit) and the new musical 'Sweet Smell of Success' based on the 1957 Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster film have been grabbing headlines as well as audience attention. New offbeat musical 'Urinetown' might have been the critic's darling but it was 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' that grabbed the 2002 Tony for Best Musical.

FAME: THE MUSICAL, with its obvious nod to the 1980s and its Reaganesque "I will survive cos raw ambition is good" optimism, at first seems perfectly in sync with current post-sept-11 comfort-seeking sentiments (we all know why FRIENDS survived a new season of new permutations in rotational lust). But while many of the other revivals are inherently rich enough to transcend the specificity of their time (okay, maybe not 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' but it won the Tony for Best Musical so let's cut them some slack), FAME, with its straight delivery of quaint teenage angst, naive idealism and paper-thin character development is not. It was cute for all of ten minutes but, like its amazingly one-dimensional set, never made it beyond retro-hell kitsch.

>>'As the immortal line "Fame! I'm gonna live forever" filled the theatre during the climatic chorus, the thought of living forever didn't actually seem all that hot after all.'

The High School of Performing Arts in New York City was one of the first public schools along with the High School of Music and Art for professional training in the Arts, and such alternative schools were the mecca for students with big dreams of bright lights. FAME the movie, which chronicled student life there, opened in 1980 and the school was immediately immortalized as the "Fame" school spurring similar "Fame" schools to be built in Miami, Washington and even Paris. And like all those dance teen dramas that inundated the 1980s, FAME (the movie and musical) charts the lives of the little people - their struggles, their disappointments, and finally their against-the-odds achievements.

Sadly, FAME comes across as terribly outdated. You just have to listen to Simon Glesson as Nick Piazza sing with gravitas about "the craft" and how he wants to "make people really care, to make them give a damn" to have the stale air of their 1980s sweat shirts hit you head-on. Even Geri Halliwell knew that campy was the way to go with her run-out-into-the-rain-and-dance sequences but FAME plays it so straight (even Nick Piazza is straight in the musical when he was gay in the movie), or plain lazy in light of how much society has changed, that it's almost laughable. Except that after the 2004th wide-eyed pledge of keeping it real for "the craft," you get the impression the creator David De Silva and lyric writer Jacques Levy still believe in these lines. Furthermore, issues such as the marginalization of Hispanic talents might have been fresh news at that time but with the rise of Latino megastars Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and the others, things are simply not the same; lead Deone Zanotto as Carmen Diaz laments that she might have to change her name to Carmen Jones to make it big, but now, being an authentic Latina would be her fast ticket to the top. Of course these issues persist (have you noticed how much whiter Destiny's Child becomes with each album?) but really the context and circumstances have changed so much that without a major update or reinvention, FAME simply doesn't cut it. Just look at the incessant eyeball rolling from the audience on the opening night.

Reviews for FAME have mainly concentrated on the high-octane performance and the energetic dance sequences and in that area, FAME did not disappoint. The dance ensemble and singing leads claimed the stage as theirs. While the songs - emotionally flat and uninspiring - needed a major revamp, vivid memories of the dancers' ecstatic but exhausted faces drenched in sweat remain firmly in my mind. Leads Zanotto (Carmen) and Peter Harrington-Olsen (Tyrone Jackson) did commendable jobs as, respectively, the impatient wannabe diva and the talented but dyslexic dancer with a misguided attitude, with their robust voices and attitudinised New York street cred. Luke Hunter as token geek Schlomo Metzenbaum and Allison Bryne as tomboy Grace Lamb also impressed with their natural portrayals and charming delivery. But it was Maria Mercedes as authoritarian Miss Sherman (she even carries a stick for emphasis) who stole the limelight with her powerhouse voice and mean swagger - a pity that poor acoustic support rendered the sparring scene between Lena Cruz (Miss Bell) and her almost inaudible.

Even as entertainment stripped of lofty artistic expectations, FAME wasn't that much of a riot. The core love stories between Nick (Simon Gleeson) and Serena (Laura Fitzpatrick) and Tyrone and Iris (Simone De La Rue) made little impact beyond prodding the plot along; Glesson and Fitzpatrick sang and sang and sang … but their love remained stubbornly of the brother and sister kind. While the struggles of the underdog will always be fodder for drama (don't even bother counting the number of loser-made-good storylines in plays, films etc), surely some effort could have been put into telling a rehashed story a different way, preferably with catchier songs, smarter lines and a jazzier set, thank you very much.

It was inevitable that at the end of the musical, the entire cast came out for an MTV encore of the hit theme song. As the immortal line "Fame! I'm gonna live forever" filled the theatre during the climatic chorus, the thought of living forever didn't actually seem all that hot after all.