One of the problems with musicals such as “Fame” and “Cats” is they don’t tend to age well. They look dated, trapped in time. I am trying to give it a chance but all I can think as I watch the drama unfolding is that these characters have a long way to go if they want their 15 minutes of fame. That isn’t to criticise the performers themselves, they did their best with what is now a rapidly ageing musical.
The stage musical is based on the 1980 film “Fame” produced by David De Silva about students at New York City High School of Performing Arts, which was then followed by a TV series.
The film and the musical both focus on the dreams and hopes of starstruck ambitious characters at a prestigious stage school. One of the problems is that not one of these characters is particularly engaging and they seem two-dimensional, unlike the film, which developed the characters more.
This is not the fault of the performers and more a problem with the musical itself. The jokes and dialogue seem to have lost their energy and magic from the early days of the musical.
This version of “Fame” is directed by Szilárd Somogyi and the pace is slick and well-considered. The scenes, lighting and music changed rapidly and the designers had done their best with the backdrops of New York skylines complete with a black sky peppered with stars.
The lighting and stage set were an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour and movement, and this is one of the strengths of this production; there was a constant flux and dynamism on the stage itself.
It is popular; the audience receives it enthusiastically but the stage and auditorium are just not suited for a musical of this magnitude. The tight constraints of the stage prevented the dancers reaching for great heights, with the movements often lacking amplitude. This is a big let-down as for a show such as “Fame”, the expectations are that you will see it played across a huge stage with breathtaking dancing and high-energy singing.
The acoustics of the theatre were also not the best for showcasing the singers’ voices. They seemed to echo around the space instead of stretching to the ceiling.
There are some musicals such as “Chicago” and “Cabaret” which being plot-driven can stand the ageing process better, but “Fame”, which centres around the New York school and its characters, essentially lacks a backbone. It looks dated and, without the skeleton of a strong plotline to hold it together, it sags.
“Cats” is another musical that does not wear its age well. Based on the poems of T.S. Eliot, it is another essentially plotless musical which introduces characters and has no real beginning, middle or end. It showcases the cats through songs and dancing but the whole show is worn and tired and trapped in another era, as jaded and pathetic as an old cat; especially since the wailing cats seem now to have lost the fur from their costumes and the sparkle from their glory days. Sometimes musicals just need to be put to sleep.
“Starlight Express”, that magical musical about trains, was ground breaking in its day as it was performed on rollerskates in the 1980s. It resided in the purpose-built Apollo Victoria Theatre in London complete with a twisting racetrack for the skaters which snaked its way round the auditorium. It was new and dynamic and awe-inspiring.
Then it started touring in theatres that just couldn’t meet the demands of the skaters who sometimes hit 64 kmh as they raced along the Apollo Victoria track looping above and around the audience. Now the audience have to put on 3D glasses to watch the races on video screens in the auditorium, the special effects hiding the fact that the story, songs and costumes are beginning to look flimsy and tarnished.
Like a singer making a comeback long after they should have quit, these musicals keep on going long past retirement. It is time to quit while you are ahead and leave people wanting more.
If you like musicals, “Fame” is a suitable show for all ages but Broadway this is not.
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