Thursday, 7 November 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Fame - The Opera House, Buxton

Upon discovering that this tour of the hit musical Fame stars Keith Jack (of BBC One’s Andrew Lloyd Webber search for Joseph, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ fame, as well as a successful solo recording and stage career) and Jorgie Porter (from FHM’s front cover 5 time as well as Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, I’m A Celebrity! and ITV’s Dancing On Ice), I considered whether their talents would be enough to fulfil their roles in this often mammoth show...and they were.

Although his stardom is of a highly recognised calibre, with his charm and signature smile, the role of Nick Piazza feels very much a supporting role in the cast, for him as it was rather basic and limited, in contrast to his on-stage love interest (well, she is interested before he realises his true feelings) Serena Katz - described as a ‘shy’ actress within the show - played by the amazing Molly McGuire, who is stunning in the role and has incredible talent, vocally and in the acting too. She is, for me, the star of the show, with powerful scenes like the passionate ‘Let’s Play A Love Scene’ and ‘Think Of Meryl Streep’. Jack’s singing voice is unique and his delivery of ‘I Want To Make Magic’ (especially as the entracte for the second half) is lovely.

Before I go on to Porter’s brilliance and fluidity as an outstanding dancer, in the character of Iris Kelly, I must mention the understudy who shines in the cover of Joe Vegas - Morgan Jackson. As well as looking stunning, his triple-threat ability and strength of believable characterisation, coupled with his cheeky charm and charisma, is to be commended and admired. He is a joy to watch, as is McGuire as Iris, and his relentless expression in ‘Can’t Keep It Down’ and persistence towards Carmen Diaz (Stephanie Rojas) is great fun too. Whilst we are here, Rojas’ talents are also to be admired. With an unexpectedly smaller biography of professional experience in the programme, her musicality is very good but I felt that her earlier portrayal of the role was less arrogant than it could be but it opened up to her being more innocent when playing against “Schlomo” Metzenbaum (Simon Anthony), during ‘Bring On Tomorrow’. Her powerful transition later on, from aspiring against-the-book actress to a shocking twist of drugtaker, was highly effective and impactful, even more so when it ends in fatality and we hear the rework of their duo-constructed song, complete with highlighted portrait throughout the tribute. Her strong and true rendition of ‘In L.A’ is a great highlight of that loss of control but strong-willedness, and was a level up on her previous ‘There She Goes’ which felt somewhat flatter than expected until we heard the iconic Irene Cara section.

Schlomo too is a great character, with true talents, and the actor playing him is one of three actor-musicians to play instruments (piano and guitar) live on-stage - with Goody (Alexander Zane) playing trumpet, the mosh-ish Lambchops (Louisa Beadel) playing percussion and tenor sax and Tom Mussell playing Saxophone. This choice is becoming more popular in musical theatre shows but is not always for the best. On this occasion it is a good choice.

Now, Jorgie Porter plays Iris Kelly. Initially shown as a posh dancer, raised at some point in France, we quickly realise she is as normal as the rest but gives off a unique vulnerability, something that she shares with Dyslexic dancer Tyron Jackson (Jamal Kane Crawford) whose dancing ability and passion for the form is not to be stopped, the same for his rebellion against putting his “faith in books” in ‘Tyrone’s Rap’ and ‘Dancin’ On The Street Walk’. The two have great chemistry and it is lovely to see their relationship grow as they “help each other”. With Porter’s evident interest and underestimated ability in dance, possibly more in Ballet(?), with Tyrone’s academic struggles, the duo are the star dancers, despite the whole cast delivering the beautiful choreography extremely well. These shouldn’t be considered supporting roles but they are and that title is shared by the teachers at PA (High School of Performing Arts): acting tutor, Mr Myers (Spencer Lee Osborne); music professor, Mr Schienkopf (Duncan Smith), dance mistress Miss Bell (Katie Marsop) and English teacher, Ms Sherman (Josie Benson) who’s poignant and sensitive ‘These Are My Children’ was soulful and sincere, yet sadly her movement was not as fluid but more slightly robotic at times. The teachers feature in the opening number of ‘Hard Work (I Pray I Make P.A)’ and Sherman and Bell battling to support Tyrone in ‘The Teacher’s Argument’ which is well-constructed.

The remaining “supporting cast” (Ryan Kayode, Serina Mathew, Daisy Edwards, and ‘off-stage swings’ Jay Lee Marco, Lauren Crooks and Courtney George) helped to bring the show alive, not to leave out Mabel (Hayley Johnston) who provided humour as “overweight and trying to lose weight, but can't resist food" (not my words) and gave a nice ‘Prayer’, backed by a rocky band (MD Tim Whiting, Dave Keech on drums, Manolo Polidario on guitar, Mike Nicols on bass and Brady Mould as ‘music associate’) and a set made up of desks, lockers/dance mirrors and blackboard, in front of a backdrop of lit boxes depicting yearbook portraits and even lit in variations including the US flag.

One of the first lines in the show, from Ms Sherman, is “Fame costs. Right here is where you start paying with sweat.”. With experience, this is very true, but I have also been an avid believer that natural talent should not be tarnished away (through academia). This cast have tremendous talent and deserve all the success they get. We thank David De Silva for his conception of the original Fame for its opportunity and the whole production team for its success.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 5/11/19

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