Fame May 2014

Nailsea actor Ross Baker, pictured right, lives forever in the memory of many who went to the opening night of Fame at the Bristol Hippodrome on Tuesday this week.

Ross who had been playing the part of saintly Jewish musician Schlomo Metzenbaum died aged 26 in the Indian Ocean Tsunami on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004, while on holiday on Koh Phi Phi Island.

Producer Adam Spiegel said at the time Ross was an ‘enormously talented and versatile performer’ who would leave a ‘huge void’ in the company.

But a decade on from this is a totally revamped production, introducing a new generation of up-and-coming talent, that is more than a whirlwind of neon leotards and high kicking dancers.

Ross went to Hannah More infant, Grove junior and Nailsea comprehensive before he got his big stage break and enrolled at the New York High School of Performing Arts.

But while this new class of 2014 come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicity I think it fails because it lacks contemporary continuity and has issues with dress, language and modern attitudes.

Fame the Musical, like the Oscar-winning1980s feature film and television show, looks at the tangled relationships between competing undergraduates who have to fight enormous odds to win a coveted place at the stage school.

Played out in the classroom and corridors it is set against an illuminated cityscape which includes advertising billboards giving prominent product placement for HSBC and Samsung!

The 20-strong cast can sing, dance, play a musical instrument or act and many can do all four.

Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd this West End show plays at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, May 31, as part of a major UK tour.

Earlier Mr Lloyd told the Bristol Post he felt the show needed a facelift and different musical treatment if it was to be produced again.

He said: "It needed updating.

"Some of the songs have been stripped back to make them more intimate and tell the story a bit more, so it's a re-orchestration rather than a remix.

"We're telling the story, not just stringing a story together with song-and-dance numbers."

While this high octane roller coaster ride takes you through their three year course with its dizzy heights and crashing lows as the star-struck wannabes embark on their quest for the ultimate accolade for me it doesn’t gel and gets lost in a time warp.

Its blurb says ‘ambition, triumph, heartbreak and romance conspire to steer them off course, and the pressure is too much for some’.

It does include dynamic dance routines and unforgettable songs but while Fame deals with budding careers blighted by drugs, others battling eating and learning disorders it stalls when portraying racial disharmony including ‘shock horror’ the N-word.

Most modern schools are really PC and who ever heard of a teacher slapping a pupil round the face and not getting suspended?

In the first half I found the ‘male erection’ routine I Can’t Keep It Down by Joseph Giacone as Joe Vegas a bit crude but perhaps I am too old to appreciate adolescent urges.

PHOTO: Hugo-Glendinning

However, the second half was better and I loved the ragbag of innocence being trained to conform to the norms of a dog-eat-dog industry - should that read puppy dog-eat-puppy dog industry?

Jodie Steele is haunting as Carmen Diaz although her bare midriff way below the belly button was far too revealing and who says Molly Stewart as Mabel Washington has the wrong body image for a dancer and has to swap to a stereotyped role as a plus sized gospel singer.

Alex Thomas as gyrating Tyrone Jackson appears to be seven foot tall without an ounce of fat on his muscular frame as he performs contortionist aerial splits and hip hop routines.

From the wrong side of the tracks and the best ballerina by far was Sasi Strallen as Iris Kelly – who confessed her impoverished parents could hardly afford to pay for her points.

Diminutive Alexandra Sarmiento as Grace ‘Lamchops’ Lamb grew in statue in every new scene and the brilliant Sarah Harlington as Serena Katz struggles with the obscure poets and sexuality of her love interest of Harry Bleumenau as Schlomo.

But Shakespeare and love conquer all in the big finale even if the Eurovision joke about a bearded Latino lady falls flat.

This new generation musical also features Alex Jordan-Mills as Nick Piazza, John Canmore as Mr Scheinkopf, Ross Lee Fowkes as Goodman ‘Goody’ King and David Haydn as Mr Myers.

Everyone stood at the end to sing and swing to I Wanna Live Forever and the applause was rapturous so perhaps not everyone left feeling slightly let down and certainly not the teenagers I had taken along who surprisingly loved the angst-ridden production.

Theatre fan Emma Rowlands went on Wednesday night.

She said: "I didn't love Fame, but I did really enjoy the second half.

"I also thought it was a weird combination of 2014 meets 1989.

"The actor playing the supposedly hardcore gang rapper Tyrone Rapper delivered his macho script with the campest voice and movements I've ever seen, you wouldn't see it done better at Gay Pride!

"It didn't work although he was an amazing dancer."

Fame plays the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, May 31.


Carol Deacon