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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Fame: The Musical has talent to spare

The idea that anyone can be a Youtube personality, reality television celebrity, or even the next Hollywood superstar, feeds into an insatiable appetite for our own fifteen minutes. As the teachers of the New York High School for the Performing Arts remind us in Fame: The Musical however, 90 percent who try are going to end up being the waiters, admin temps and sanitary workers of the future.

More than a cautionary tale though, Fame is also filled with a certain irony as it tells the story of young adults looking to break into show business, performed by young adults looking to break into show business.

Some quick math means that 26, in the energetic cast of 29 currently on stage at the Firehall Arts Centre, will never find that dream. And while that assumes that this mix of community, pre-professional and Equity players are all looking for the same thing, it is still a sobering thought.

Enough about 2016 though. This is 1984, where leg warmers are as much a fashion statement as a necessity for the students at the New York High School for the Performing Arts (known simply as “P.A.”).

With only a handful accepted into the P.A. each year from thousands of applicants, this group of students are supposed to be the best at what they do.  Fortunately, there is enough talent on stage to make us believe that to be true. And while it is not difficult to pick out the Equity players among this large cast, that doesn’t mean that the rest are left behind.

As Carmen Diaz, Synthia Yusuf is convincing as the tragic dancer who discovers the quest for fame is filled with deadly pitfalls and Dimitrois Stephanoy has the looks and the swagger for Joe, the class clown. Chris Adams and Michelle Bardach make for an oddly delightful couple, with their reprise of “Let’s Play a Love Scene” in act two a highlight.  Madeleine Suddaby’s powerfully jazzy voice is a perfect match for the overweight dancer, Mabel.

With one of the best voices of the night, Gabriel Brown gives a show-stopping performance with “Try”. Along with Michelle Creber and Erik Gow the trio make for a very credible rock band. That they also play their own instruments adds to the authenticity of their characters; Brown plays the piano, Creber is one mean drummer, and Gow is as comfortable on both piano and electric violin.

Among the adults, Sharon Crandall, Jennifer Suratos, and Scott Walters bring an air of encouragement and a big dose of reality to their students. Crandall is particularly good as the dance teacher Ms Bell, with a set of pipes that almost overcame the sound issues on opening night.

In fact, sound is an issue that many of the non-professional musical theatre productions around town suffer from. The culprits usually come from a band that is too loud, or an inadequate sound system. The first, as was the case here, is inexcusable and can easily be fixed (although it really should not be a problem on opening night).

The second is a bit more complicated.  Yes, renting good quality sound equipment is expensive for companies working on shoestring budgets, and finding the right technical know-how can be difficult. But it does beg the question then, why a musical if the lyrics cannot be understood?  In this production, even the pros were having difficulty being heard.

Director Lalainia Lindbjerg Strelau does double-duty as both stage director and choreographer. With a dance-heavy show like Fame, Strelau would have served her production better had she handed the choreography reins to someone else. As a result, many of the dance sequences felt muddled and repetitive.

There is talent to spare in this production of Fame: The Musical. I only wish I had been able to hear them all.

Fame: The Musical. Music by Steve Margoshes, lyrics by Jacques Levy, and book by José Fernandez. Directed and choreographed by Lalainia Lindbjerg Strelau. Musical direction by Monique Creber. A Bring on Tomorrow Co. production in association with Creber Music Corp. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) until August 21. Visit for tickets and information.

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