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BWW Reviews: MSMT Intern Company Dreams of FAME

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"Fame/I'm gonna live forever/I'm gonna learn how to fly. . . ."So sings the company of young aspiring actors in the Steve Margoshes/Jacques Levy 1984 musical, FAME, and, indeed, one finds the description appropriate for the talented cast which Maine State Music Theatre has assembled for its annual intern production, presented at Brunswick's Pickard Theatre on Monday, June 15th. Each year some two dozen young artists, who also perform in the main stage shows and work behind the scenes come together to present their own show, and in this year's FAME they outdo themselves!

The 1988 musical based on the earlier movie is an excellent choice for the company, offering age-appropriate characters with which the actors can identify and challenging them to turn out colorful, individual performances while creating an esprit de corps. Moreover, it is a theatre story, filled with laughter, pathos, and heart.

Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark and Ray Dumont .(Leah Nicoll, Associate choreographer) co-direct and choreograph the show. Together they bring a keen eye for detail, the ability to elicit inner resonance form the actors, and an overall sense of energy and emotion that palpably transfers to the audience. Billed as a staged concert version (and performed within the confines of The Full Monty set), the production, nevertheless, is fully blocked and rich in polished dance and musical sequences. Dumont and Clark's choreography is inventive, colorful, challenging, embracing a wide range of styles from ballet to jazz, tap, disco, and touches of modern, and it is amazing with what technical facility and verve the young dancers execute the demands. The evening is filled with a contagious electricity that makes it memorable.

Music Director Samuel Thorne Bagala leads the spirited eight-person pit ensemble and draws fine vocal performances from the cast. Stage Manager Alyssa Casey and Props Master Nicole Schwaniger collaborate to create simple décor that works within the main stage context: a few simple banks of lockers, a dance bar, a piano, and the show finale's glittering "Fame" sign. Travis M. Grant costumes the actors in a kaleidoscope of period apparel, striking the right balance between teenage casual and show biz pizazz. Lighting Designer Heather Reynolds creates an attractive and animated ambiance which, despite some issues with apron illumination, is effective and well-executed, while Sound Designer Rachel Boissevain does an excellent job of balancing the singers and orchestra.

Clark and Dumont have cast the show with insight, playing to the strengths of the individual actors, who are uniformly excellent. Reagan Danel Ogle makes a lithe, sexy, hard-edged yet vulnerable Carmen, whose ambitions prove self-destructive. She shines in her big vocal dance numbers - notably "There She goes/Fame" and "Bring on Tomorrow" and manages to tug at the heartstrings with Carmen's unraveling. Possessed of a lovely voice and fine sense of shaping a song, Stefanie Sable is a disarming Serena; Leah Nicoll brings down the house with "Mabel's Prayer," sung with a strong sense of gospel style and mordant humor. Sara Bond is an appealing Iris and proves herself to be a graceful, expressive dancer, and Sarah Kennedy etches a charmingly jaded portrait of drummer Grace/Lamb Chops.

Alec Cohen strikes the right balance between seriousness and sweetness as Nick, and his "I Want to Make Magic" is lyrically sung. James Spencer Dean almost steals the show with his outrageously funny, unfiltered portrayal of Joe Vega, complete with New York Hispanic accent and mannerisms; he is a singer-dancer who can light up the stage with his smile, his clear, focused tenor, and his nimble dance presence. Similarly, Deangelo Renard is an immensely gifted dancer and sensitive actor who embodies Tyrone's struggles with empathy. "Dancing on the Sidewalk" is performed with brio, and his scene where he halting begins to read Walt Whitman is most touching. Benjamin Henley convincingly portrays Scholomo's warmth, compassion, and budding self-discovery, and his duet with Carmen, "Bring on Tomorrow" and its sad solo reprise are movingly sung. Jordan Lipes adds a powerful athletic dance presence to the male ensemble, and Matthew West gives the role of Goody an endearing, affable charm, and strong vocal flair.

Rounding out the cast in non-singing roles are Jenny Brown's sensitive, stern-yet-motherly portrayal of Mrs. Bell, the dance teacher; Glenn Anderson's terse, witty music instructor, Mr. Sheinkopf; Cameron Wright's often exasperated, demanding acting coach Mr. Meyers, and Ray Dumont's Mr. Sherman, the English teacher whose tough love is both frightening and transformative to his students.

FAME ends with the students' graduation, poised as they are to go out into the world in pursuit of their dreams, just as these MSMT interns, after this intensive summer with the company, will do the same. If Monday night's display of talent is any indicator, that future will be bright.

Photos courtesy of MSMT.

FAME was performed at MSMT on June 15, 2015. For information about the rest of the season visit www.msmt.org


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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold