Musicals are, in my experience, best approached with cautious neutrality. Then if the tunes are catchy, the dancing is jazzy, and the plot is memorable, I am entirely won over. So whilst ‘Mamma Mia’ was a touch sick-making, and ‘Sweeney Todd’ somewhat “meh”, ‘Oliver!’ will always warm the cockles of my scaly reptile heart.
Sussex Musical Theatre Society’s (SMuTS) previous two musicals ‘Bugsy Malone’ and ‘Anything Goes’ both easily helped the audience to make the mental leap from grey-toned reality into all-singing, all-dancing fantasy. Unfortunately, ‘Fame’ did not always live up to this – admittedly high – standard.
Before all cast members burn The Badger office to the ground, let me say that even if the overall production didn’t quite scale dizzying heights, various parts were excellent. The ‘80s setting was fun and colourful, and the aforementioned singing and dancing element of musical theatre was uniformly enthusiastic and sometimes dazzling.
‘Whilst ‘Fame’ has the major advantage of offering a broad ensemble cast, the script was full of reductive stereotypes and dated ’80s jokes’
Also, several performers shone, even though ‘Fame’’s script offers fairly basic characterisation. Bold and brassy Carmen (played by Asha Jane Singh) was the natural star of each scene, and her Brooklyn accent was spot-on. The battle of wills set-piece between the English teacher (Jess Nathan) and the dance coach (Lauren Hudson) was brilliantly fiery and perfectly sung. Candice Carty-Williams, a newcomer to the stage, transformed her walk-on part Mabele into the highlight of the show. And the music, skillfully performed live every night by members from Sussex Universities Big Band, was a guilty pleasure to be savoured.
And yet somehow the musical failed to set the audience alight, at least on the evening I attended. Applause was polite rather than rapturous.
The crux of the matter is this: ‘Fame’ is a musical about up-and-coming stars of the performing arts, and each scene is intended to showcase the very hottest dancers, actors, singers and musicians that Broadway can offer. ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Bugsy Malone’ were perhaps better choices simply because they did not place that level of intense pressure on the players.
Whilst ‘Fame’ has the major advantage of offering a broad ensemble cast, the script was full of reductive stereotypes and dated ‘80s jokes. Having said that, all of the students involved rose to the challenges that ‘Fame’ presents with great energy, and my fervent admiration of anyone who can sing, dance and act all at the same time remains very much intact.