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OPENING NIGHT REVIEW: Fame: The Musical, Harrogate Theatre

Fame at Harrogate Theatre

“FAME! I’m gonna live foreverrrrrr, I’m gonna learn how to flyyy HIGH!”

We all know the classic title song (and if you don’t, then you’ve been living under a rock). But I doubt you know the musical of ‘Fame’ as it’s not one that comes around very often. Well, for this week only, Harrogate Phoenix Players present FAME at Harrogate Theatre.

Based on the hit 1980 film, FAME is set at the New York High School of Performing Arts and the show follows a number of the students through their training and their struggles as they come to terms with their identity in the industry.

With 15 main characters, ‘Fame’ is an ambitious show for any company. It requires 15 actors who can confidently and skilfully pull off the acting, singing and dancing requirements of the elite students at ‘P.A’.

With a very young cast, Harrogate Phoenix Players’ manage to cast the right view of the Performing Arts High School. The ensemble in general were very slick and clearly worked well together and I found myself drawn to actors in the ensemble just as much as the main cast which is a great achievement for these young performers. There is a lovely dynamic onstage whenever the full cast is on.

the cast of Fame at Harrogate Theatre

The minimalistic set of brick walls and balconies certainly transports you to the grimy streets of New York (because let’s be real, not everywhere is Time Square) and from the opening number to the close we feel the sense that this world that the students are about to embark on is anything but glamorous. It is dirty and tough, but if they put in ‘hard work’ then with a bit of luck they will succeed in achieving their dreams.

Nobody learns this harder than fame hungry Carmen. Nina Logue is electric as the self-obsessed dancer; a fantastic actress who is able to portray both brash and vulnerable sides to the role. A lovely relationship between Carmen and sweet Schlomo (played by Matthew Weilding) is created, setting up perfectly for the emotional ending to their story.

Other notable mentions from the cast include Madeleine Johnson as cute and endearing Serena Katz who lit up the stage every time she walked on and Sam McKenzie’s voice soared in his opening solo ‘I wanna make magic’.

Jess Cliff playing Mabel ‘the overweight dancer’ is laughable because Jess is so gorgeous and a NORMAL SIZE! But I guess that just shows how shallow the industry is, that anybody who is bigger than a size 8 is somehow ‘overweight’. Jess’ loveable portrayal of the character kept the plot point light-hearted but in reality, the situation at drama schools and in the industry is toxic.

In the original version of FAME, the character of dyslexic dancer Tyrone is played by a black actor, however in predominately white Harrogate this casting was probably hard to achieve. So, the character has become Jack, an equally dyslexic dancer but the issues around Jack are more in regards to social class rather than racial prejudices. Djo Fisher as Jack took on the role with style and great characterisation with some genuinely believable scenes between him and Debbie Phillips as ‘prim and proper’ ballerina Iris.

One of my favourite songs in FAME is ‘The Teachers Argument’ which closes Act One, however it is arguably some of the hardest vocals in the show. Carole Sowden as English teacher, Miss Sherman, and Rowenna Naylor as dance tutor, Miss Bell, tackled the song with style and simplicity. Instead of wandering around the stage squaring up to each other, they kept their argument grounded and used their powerful voices to argue their points.

With FAME at Harrogate Theatre as a directorial debut, it is a very ambitious show to take on and special note must be given to the director for looking after such a huge cast and navigating each of the storylines so well.

If you are interested in the performing arts or were a kid who loved the TV series then this show is a trip down memory lane, with some new characters thrown in the mix. While the show is always an 80’s throwback, I can’t help feeling in general that the show is dated now and we need a fresh version of FAME tackling the modern issues of the industry and the brutality of once you leave performing arts school. School is plain sailing, it’s once these kids get out into the industry that the ‘hard work’ really comes in…

Tickets for Fame at Harrogate Theatre can be bought from the website here. The show runs from Thursday 6th February through til Saturday 8th February. Shows start at 7.30pm, including a 2.30pm matinee on Saturday.

Fame at Harrogate Theatre poster