‘Fame’ is a relatively squeaky-clean 80s teen drama that follows the lives of a group of students at a prestigious New York arts school that promises them a rigorous training programme so they can be The Best, and fight off the competition in the big city. It features a large ensemble, cheesy numbers about names in lights, and jarring episodic jumps between plots. Unfortunately, the storytelling in ‘Fame’ is its weakest point. The large cast of clumsily realised characters with all their separate stories and struggles mean that the potentially strongest personalities get watered down into tropes, and genuinely engaging tension between dreams and reality, art and academia, becomes thin. The romances appear out of nowhere, or blatant necessity, because this is a show about teen drama so break ups and make ups, we guess? As a result, it is difficult to relate to or connect with any of the characters, as we can already assume their entire character arc by their introductory poses and signature ‘I Want’ song.
However, all of this being said, the cast is outstandingly gifted, and what they make of a transparent storyline is commendable. The group is full of strong singers who command attention and are genuinely impressive, and therefore it is a shame that they, unfortunately, struggle to be heard of the imposing soundtrack. Almost every duet or ensemble piece is drowned out by the orchestra, so a lot of the plot or character motivation provided by the lyrics is lost. The singers are undoubtedly hitting the notes, and performing with enthusiasm, and it is impressive when they do manage to break through the sound barrier of the drums. Furthermore, it is difficult to create a cohesive narrative featuring so many mish-mashes and contrasting characters, however, the ensemble comes together relatively strongly. Some of the choreography is somewhat lacklustre, and is most obvious during the most energetic number, ‘Fame’, which is performed with a lot of dramatic walking, posing, and pointing. However, this does not detract from the infectious fun that the cast are having, and it is overall enjoyable.
Stand-out performances include Mhari Goodwin as Ms Sherman – who received cheers from the audience for her impressive and heartfelt rendition of ‘These Are My Children’ – Hannah Barneston as Iris – who commanded attention from the opening number with her expressive dancing – and Matt Galloway as Joe, who brings charm to an otherwise crass and crude teenage comedic relief. Mimi Joffroy’s Carmen is also surprisingly nuanced, as she manages the balance between fame-obsessed poser and heart-wrenchingly naive dream chasing teen very well.
‘Fame’ is best enjoyed if you forget the plot and pay attention to the display of talented singing and dancing on display. It could do with more glitter, and bigger hair, but is a glitzy and entertaining night out nonetheless. Minor technical issues are easily remedied, and not something to be put off by, so if you’re looking for a show to clap along to and legitimately re-consider buying leg warmers, this is the show to see.