Manchester Palace Theatre – until 28 July 2018
Reviewed by Lottie Davis-Browne
As part of a 30-year anniversary tour (30 years since the first stage production – Miami 1988), Fame – the well-loved 1980’s movie come-TV series – has kicked off the 2018/19 tour starting at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. Being a 80’s kid myself, this has been something I have been wanting to see a sensational performance of on stage for decades. The closest I have got so far was at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage approximately six years ago – a performance which oozed energy and brought the classic 1980’s movie to life.
This only fuelled my excitement for Selladoor Productions touring company featuring soul singer Mica Paris, Hollyoaks actress and reality TV show (Dancing on Ice and I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!) Jorgie Porter and BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do runner up Keith Jack, sensational line up. However my excitement turned out to be short lived…..
When you think “Fame” you think all things 1980s, the leg warmers, the drama of each students individual stories and of course the fabulous dancing and the iconic ending involving a New York taxi cab and students dancing on top of it. This touring production could easily be set in any decade, as we meet the potential students of New York Performing Arts High School. The hair, makeup and costume choices lacked a feel of the early 1980s in which the story is meant to be set – despite this they still started Freshman year in 1980 and graduated in 1984 – with little development or change in appearance to the characters over that time. Surely in the space of four years the students would alter their looks slightly?? Certainly not at the Performing Arts School!
There’s no clear main character and the changing scenes from one characters story to the next seemed somewhat disorientating. Whilst each character and cast member gave a splendid performance, there was so much going back and forth between the characters it was hard to warm to or get a feel of each individuals characters highs and lows over the four years of studying at the school. Whilst anybody who has seen the original movie will know that Carmen left school to pursue fame, desperate to see her name in lights, but was met with some seedy characters and eventually dying of a drugs overdose, but this production shows very little of that side of her story which seems such as waste of Stephanie Rojas’ talents as what little of her portrayal as the fame hungry dancer determined to make it big.
Jorgie Porters’ stage debut as the poor dance student Iris Kelly (whom fellow students originally assume comes from a privileged back ground when they see her dad dropping her off in a flash car – only to learn he is employed as a chauffeur) does not disappoint – whilst it’s clear she is an established actress, her background is in ballet, being an ex-pupil of Chester’s Hammond School. Whilst I was somewhat disappointed Porter did not perform en pointé in this production, the standard of the rest of her performance outshone the rest of the cast in terms of dancing. Also her character did not feature enough in this production which seemed a waste of Porters’ talent for dance and acting.
Vocally Mica Paris gave a knock-out performance as Miss Sherman, resulting in several standing ovations, – her solo performance of “These Are My Children” being a real highlight of the show, however I felt at times her acting was somewhat wooden and that she did not represent the character in the original movie well. It is hinted in the movie that Miss Sherman is perceived to be somewhat racist for “picking on” the under-performing Tyrone – whom – despite being a talented hip-hop dancer from an under-privileged family, struggles academically due to being an un-diagnosed dyslexic.
Albey Brookes as cocky sex-mad Joe provides the laughs and injects some life into what is otherwise a lack-lustre production which despite being produced to celebrate the thirty years since the first stage production fails to bring the original movie to life. Even the usual grand finale was watered down and was the final nail in the coffin for me personally.
One thing I was impressed by was the lighting design (Prema Mehta) – which featured 80s-esque headshots including the productions cast as their characters, which changed colours etc or blacked out photos to show one or two characters at a time, for example at Carmen’s funeral only her headshot was visible.
If you’re wanting nostalgia and to go back to the early 80s dance era – my advice is – approach with caution – I only hope the touring production of Flashdance will be less disappointing than this production.