BWW Review: FAME, Peacock Theatre
Billed as the 'definitive 30th anniversary tour', Nick Winston's production of Fame - now playing at the Peacock Theatre - is celebrating the stage adaptation of the 1980 film. It's had seven West End productions in that time, and Winston wants to appeal to three decades' worth of fans who have encountered the story through film, television or theatre.
Morgan Large's design is excellent, with 80s-style school photos covering the back wall. The moving set pieces of lockers, fencing and the staircase are used effectively to create different places and the changes are made very efficiently. There's a cameo of a couple of NY taxis at the end too, which is a nice touch, amusingly handled.
The images light up differently at various points in the show. The photos even become the American flag during "Tyrone's Rap", at which point it becomes obvious parallels are being created between New York in the 80s and now.
The rap itself sounds very dated. It's of its time and could do with being either updated or a bit more tongue-in-cheek. In a similar vein, it's lucky for the writers of Fame that Meryl Streep is still going strong, or "Think of Meryl Streep" wouldn't have survived as a lyric.
The colourful lights during the reprise of "Let's Play a Love Scene" are very impressive and it's a shame Prema Mehta's lighting design isn't more prevalent before this. During "Bring On Tomorrow", though, the lighting is poor. Only Schlomo (Simon Anthony) is lit and there are beautiful solo lines coming from each of the performers, but you can't tell who's singing because the spotlight is too tight on the piano.
There are a couple of moments when the mics are too sensitive - the actor's breathing can be heard enough to be distracting. And there are swishing sounds being picked up as they dance - particularly noticeable when Iris (Jorgie Porter) is first dancing with Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford). However, their duets work well - Porter's elegant lines contrasting with Crawford's rougher style. They have good chemistry as a pairing.
Fame tells lots of individual stories, but none of the storylines are quite developed enough to draw you in in this production. In many cases, the characterisation is weak. There isn't a lot to make you care for the students.
Molly McGuire's comic portrayal of Serena is a nice interpretation, but doesn't sit too well as part of the production as a whole. Her acting is heightened beyond the level of anyone else's so the character doesn't quite gel.
Mable, played by Holly Johnstone, draws the eye whenever she's on stage. Her characterisation of the starved dancer is great, and her energy is fabulous - she's very funny, and she has a lovely rich tone to her voice. "Mable's Prayer" is a highlight of the show.
Louisa Beadel as Lambchops also stands out as a performer, and it's a shame to have such a talented actress in a comparatively minor role. The same can be said for Katie Wassop as Miss Bell, who has a beautiful quality of movement when she dances. It's a pleasure to watch her, but it doesn't always make sense that she's joining in.
Mica Paris's moment to shine as Miss Sherman - her solo "These Are My Children" - is disappointing. In the run up to the song, it's hard to form a connection with the character as Paris often has her back to the audience. While the money notes are impressive, she stops in odd places to breathe and breaks the emotion. Her scene with Crawford in the run-up to the number does not climax as it should - while the audience will gasp, it could have a lot more impact.
Unfortunately, the ensemble doesn't seem to work as a whole - they don't create the impression of moving as one. It could be an attempt to create the feel of a school class, rather than a company, but if so, it isn't quite believable. When the whole cast are on stage, it often looks scruffy.
The performance seems to lack polish, or finesse, right down to some printing mistakes in the programme. Winston says in his interview for the programme that he wants the audience to feel they're watching the next generation of stars. And perhaps we are. But they have a little way to go yet.
There are a few moments of promise - during "Fame", for example. It also seems like something clicks during "Dancin' on the Sidewalk", but it's short-lived.
"They Know How to do it in LA" is the show-stopping moment. Stephanie Rojas is certainly a triple threat as Carmen, but perhaps lacks a little depth in her characterisation in the first half. It isn't immediately clear how troubled she is.
But when Carmen returns from LA, Rojas really embraces the transformation, with a complete shift in her gait. She perfectly strikes the balance between vulnerability and fighting spirit. The number is heart-wrenching and delivered immaculately. It's still just rough enough around the edges to convey the raw emotion of the scene.
The music is always going to get the audience going - the Oscar-winning title song is as much of a crowd-pleaser as always. The opening notes of "Fame", "Love Scene" and "Bring on Tomorrow" are enough to give you goosebumps.
The score is the best part of this production, which is a shame for the show's anniversary celebration. But it goes to show that Fame will live on as one of the great musicals on the strength of its songs.
Photo Credit: Alessia Chinazzo