Everyone’s favourite quarantine activity has returned! ‘The Shows Must Go On!’ YouTube channel is back to posting a new live recording of a musical every week, for free! This week’s offering, streamed live at 7pm on the 25th of September and available for 48 hours, was Fame! Fame follows the lives of students at a performing arts school in New York who are, you guessed it, looking for fame. Part comedy, part tragedy, with great performances, a vibrant atmosphere, and instruments actually being played by the actors live on stage, the musical was a fun romp that made for an entertaining Friday night. Was it perfect? No! Is it fun? You betcha!
Despite being an avid musical theatre fan, I’d never seen Fame before. Straight away it felt like the epitome of a musical and had all the building blocks of a classic, which is why it’s had such a long-lasting run (this was a recording of the 30th anniversary performance). It was quirky, had good dancing with solid performances from all the actors, and everybody spoke with the classic American theatre accent; it seemed like it was going to be quite a fun, but one-dimensional musical, something that pathed the way for future high school-esque musicals but wasn’t incredible in its own right. However, I was quickly proven wrong. Fame has a surprising amount of depth, and tackles quite relevant and poignant issues, especially given it was written in the 80s.
For me, the highlight was an absolutely incredible standout performance by Mica Paris. Her song ‘These Are My Children’ was a powerful ballad that hit hard and was perfectly sung and emoted by Paris. It was an impressively eloquent song all about the trials of being a woman of colour who has made it to be the headteacher of a performing arts school. She loves and feels for every one of her students as if they were her own children, and yet is forced to be hard on them as she knows how tough it is to succeed, especially for the students who are also people of colour. Her job is thankless work, as the students view her as being too harsh – and yet she does it anyway as she understands the importance of it, and it is this nuance that really makes the musical feel insightful and fresh.
In this way, Fame is a great mix of High School Musical and Rent – fun and shallow on the surface, with teenage problems and catchy songs, (fame – you’ll always remember its name), and yet, when it wants to, it truly sucker punches you. Cheesy and twee in parts and yet it can just as easily twist – with a truly harrowing performance from Stephanie Rojas (Carmen) in her song ‘In L.A’. And although some of the storylines definitely fall a little flat for a 2020 audience, for example the character of Mabel whose only role in the show is to complain about being too fat whilst everyone tells her she needs to diet strikes me as particularly out of touch – but given it was created as a musical more than thirty years ago, most of it holds up.
With truly insightful moments, catchy songs and excellent choreography, this 30th anniversary performance of Fame, which the creator of the musical, David De Silva said was the ‘best production of Fame ever’ is worth the watch, and brings needed joy to musical theatre fans whilst the theatres still remain closed.
Featured image source: Flickr