In Italy, where I grew up, the TV series Fame was broadcast in the afternoon, when families would enjoy it gathered after lunch. As a young child, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the topics, but rather enjoy the musical score and, in particular the opening credits with the series’ theme song. Only recently have I been made aware of how controversial some of those topics were.
For those who aren’t familiar with this 1980s cult title, Fame focuses on the lives of a class of teenagers attending the prestigious New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Whilst studying drama and music and perfecting their dance steps, the youngsters discover their sexuality, come to terms with the responsibilities attached to adulthood, experiment with drugs and face the downfalls of illiteracy. All spread over six seasons, for a total of 136 episodes.
In its theatrical counterpart – conceived and developed by David De Silva, with music by Steve Margoshes and lyrics by Jacques Levy – the creatives make a great effort to condense all those vexed topics into just over two hours, achieving an outcome that might divide the audience.
The astonishing talent of the 22-strong cast is the true gem of this production, where live music and the vocal prowess of Carmen (Stephanie Rojas) and Miss Sherman (Mica Paris) intertwines with the delightful dance routines offered by the power couple of Iris (Jorgie Porter) and Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford).
The rest of the cast is also given an opportunity to shine during musical rehearsals, acting workshops and even comedy vignettes. These scenes often offer a frame for the personal history of each student and the way they relate to their peers and the teachers. But the narrative structure feels too compartmentalised with, for example, a number of “girl-meets-boy” situations, which inevitably end up in a kiss. With regards to the plot, the wow factor is almost entirely absent and the character development is superficial and easy to foretell.
When Fame first appeared on screen – initially as a 1980 feature film – many of the issues presented sparked controversy amongst teenagers, but have since gained a place in the public domain. Those were the years when the consumption of heroin was raging and a widespread awareness about STDs and contraception was at least decade away. Now that all these taboos have been exposed, the only gambit that could possibly preserve this show’s ground-breaking reputation is to try and inject some more timely arguments into it.
Without its former bite, the popularity of the billboard might be the only reason why audiences continue to flock to the theatre – made up mainly of nostalgic 1980s kids eager to relive those glorious days. I must admit, I am one of them too, and I hysterically sprang to my feet as soon as the first notes of the theme song filled the air.
Conceived and Developed by: David De Silva
Book by: Jose Fernandez
Lyrics by: Jacques Levy
Music by: Steve Margoshes
Directed and Choreographed by: Nick Winston
Producer: Selladoor Productions
Box Office: 0844 871 7626
Booking Link: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/fame/
Booking Until: 23 February 2019 then touring the UK