Review: Lancaster University Presents Fame

The stage musical Fame is based on the 1980 film of the same name. When I took my seat on Friday night I had a vague memory of having watched the film version years ago but that was all I had to go on in terms of what to expect.

The show’s plot follows a number of students on their rather rapid journey from first being accepted in performing arts school to graduation. There isn’t one character that takes a leading role but rather we get to see a whole host of different characters’ stories. There’s unrequited love, unlikely couples, teenagers struggling to find themselves and authority figures who seem like they’re trying to stifle these kids’ dreams but who really have their best interest at heart. Basically the whole plot is cheesy, so cheesy. But the cast and crew, led by director Katherine Dodds, did a fantastic job of embracing the script for what it was and the result was that they produced something that was so much fun to watch.

One of the stand-out performances was given by Shannon Lenton, playing shy actress Serena Katz. Serena is hopelessly in love with Nick Piazza (Luke Morgan) who spends a lot of the show either ignoring or outright rejecting poor Serena. Lenton did an amazing job of taking a character who had the potential to be a bit irritating and instead making her completely sympathetic and somewhat adorable. Her heartfelt performance of ‘Think of Meryl Streep’ was especially touching as well as incredibly strong vocally.

Then there was Holly Gudgin who gave a vibrant performance as Fame school’s resident diva, Carmen Diaz who’s convinced she is going to be world famous someday very soon. Gudgin had the difficult task of singing the lead in the song ‘Fame’, the only number in the show that I –and probably the majority of the audience – was actually familiar with beforehand.  She did an excellent job of fronting some of the most upbeat and energetic parts of the first act. Then in act two Gudgin was equally good when delivering the much more melancholy ballad ‘In L.A.’, giving depth to yet another character who could have been wholly two dimensional without such a strong performance.

Some of the best scenes took place between Johnnoy Johnson as Tyrone Jackson and his teacher Miss Sherman played by Emily Millington whose attempts to help Tyrone improve his reading leave him feeling as though she is out to get him. Johnson gave a powerful performance of ‘Tyrone’s Rap’ which was particularly jarring. Towards the end of act one Miss Sherman and dance teacher Ms Bell (Katie Lee) sing ‘Teacher’s Argument’ in which a disagreement over how best to help Tyrone turns into a more general debate over whether academic pursuits are more important than the arts.  Despite it seeming an unlikely subject for a musical duet it was probably my favourite number in the show.

Without doubt the funniest moments in the show came from Josh Utting as José Vegas, an over confident acting student and Aurelia Gage as his long suffering drama teacher Ms Myers who tries her best to help him get in touch with his emotions. I can’t imagine the character of Ms Myers being even half as funny without Gage’s extraordinary and seemingly effortless comic instincts. Every line she delivered was just funny. One of the highlights of the show is when Ms Myers asks her class to reveal an emotional truth about themselves to the class prompting Utting’s absolutely hilarious rendition of ‘Can’t Keep It Down’, a wonderfully explicit song all about José’s struggles to contain his amorous desires.

The whole ensemble worked well together. The large cast and lively dance numbers coupled with the brilliant live band gave the show all the energy it needed to be entertaining. The directors and choreographers made particularly good use of the space as despite the large numbers of people performing in what isn’t the largest space the stage never looked too packed or cluttered.

One thing I will say about the dance chorus though is that I felt they were a little underused. The show is a collaboration between LUTG and LUDanS so it’s only to be expected that some of the dancers won’t be the best actors and some of the actors may not be very good dancers.  I think giving the dancers some space of their own would have given the choreographers more freedom to create some more advanced routines which would have made the show even better. Always having the dancers mixed in with the actors only seemed to make the disparity in abilities stand out more.

Overall Fame was a thoroughly enjoyable show and a lot fun for the audience. Congratulations to everyone involved on producing a brilliant show. Fame is the first musical I’ve seen produced by Lancaster students but I’ll definitely be going along to next year’s production and the bar has been set high.

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