Fame, the 1990s musical of the 1980s classic tale of stage school students trying to make it to the top, doesn’t contain the songs the TV show did but that’s not to its detriment, no matter how much you turn up in the mood for a little High Fidelity.
The first act is as nerve-wracking as can be expected from an amateur performance, the audience (friends and family aside) keeping a tense eye out for any bum note, dodgy accent or missed cue. And to be fair, there’s a few. But there’s a hell of a lot for director Kei Bailey to be keeping his eye on, and to add to it all, there was a mere eight days of rehearsals at the Empire before the show went on.
However things rapidly improve. All fears are quickly dispelled in the second act, which just doesn’t miss a beat. Whatever nerves, lumpy choreography or other stumbling blocks held the cast back in the beginning are nowhere to be found. The story flies by, with laughs, romance, and even the odd lump in the throat to be had. The beginning is terrifying because of the sheer scale of the cast – nearly 150 kids. It’s understandable that they should all be included on stage, and occasionally all at once, but the first act feels as if it struggles under the task. Often principal cast members are hidden in a sea of bodies mid-song.
This is bought under control in the second act, and brings out the best required of all. By then, there’s no doubt the cast can do it, no fears someone might go off key. Smaller groups of backing dancers really help set numbers better than the scary mishmash of earlier scenes and give the chorus members more chance to show themselves. There might still be the odd fluffed line, but it doesn’t seem to matter as much. The audience is truly involved and rooting for the young performers on stage.
There are some notably very good performances – this much is probably unanimous, whoever you ask. Keiron Williams as feisty dancer Tyrone (I wanted to say Leroy) makes it all look easy, and his dance and rap numbers just shine. A standout number could be These Are My Children, convincingly and powerfully sung by Kelsey Cullen as snotty English teacher Miss Sherman. Lauren Sidwell as attention-seeking diva Carman Diaz certainly uses the role to mark herself out as a one-to-watch.
There’s a few of the old ‘adult themes’ touched on here, but not as much as other productions of Fame. Despite it’s flaws, you leave feeling happy, entertained, and really pleased for the performers, several of whom anyone would be pleased to see on the Empire stage again in future.
Fame is on at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday, August 7.