It is nearly 40 years since Fame first hit the screens, but its iconic story of aspiring performers donning their legwarmers to dance on yellow taxi cabs remains a pop culture phenomenon. This modern-day fable of art transcending adversity could not be more relevant today – after the past eighteen months, the power of performance to bring joy and togetherness has never been more important.
This production was postponed from the end of last term, and it is testament to the extraordinary talent and commitment of the cast and crew that they were able to bring it to the stage this week with the bare minimum of rehearsal – indeed, in the case of Kate W (M, LVI), with no rehearsal at all! (Kate arrived in the theatre ten minutes before curtain-up, having lost her luggage at the airport.) Particular thanks are due to the leavers – Phoebe Stratton Morris (EDH), Arthur Myrddin-Evans (Rt), Clara Nagle (M) and Amber Mak (M) – who returned to school after their A levels in order to bid a final farewell to the Ashton stage.
The show follows the students of New York’s star factory, the Academy of Performing Arts, as they battle both their personal demons and the challenges of an unforgiving industry. Amber M gave an impressive turn as Tyler, a talented dancer struggling with dyslexia and resentful of her more privileged classmates, particularly Iris (played with elegance and poise by Clara N). Amber – who also acted as assistant choreographer to Head of Dance Sian Archer – demonstrated her extraordinary hip hop skills in a breathtakingly dynamic rendition of ‘Dancing on the Sidewalk’ that had the audience on its feet.
Meanwhile, Nick Piazza, sensitively played by Ed P (R, LVI), is desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, earnestly spouting Stanislavski and refusing to be distracted by adolescent hormones and the charms of his lovesick scene partner, Serena, played by Annabel T (EDH, LVI). Annabel gave a barnstorming performance in her stage debut, capturing Serena’s helpless longing with great warmth and vulnerability as she pleaded with Nick to ‘play a love scene of our own’.
The undisputed queen bee of the academy, however, is Carmen Diaz, a fame-hungry wannabe diva with sharp elbows and a big voice. Abandoning her education and the puppyish devotion of her high-school sweetheart, Schlomo (Arthur M-E), she flees to L.A., where she quickly discovers the sinister truth behind the promise that ‘In L.A., your dreams can come true.’ She was played with extraordinary charisma by Kate W, who made her both tragic and likeable as she traced her dark journey into drug addiction.
The students are alternately inspired, nagged and cajoled by the staff, played by Phoebe S-M, Georgina C (G, UVI), Hamish G (Ch, UVI) and Eleanor K (MSH, LVI). All are devoted to their students but have different views as to how best to prepare them for the inevitable hard-knocks of a life on stage. This conflict was brilliantly articulated by Phoebe and Georgina in ‘The Teacher’s Argument’, a virtuoso close-harmony show-down.
Phoebe went on to bring the house down with her heartfelt performance of ‘These are my children’, perhaps proving that ‘in times of trouble, when the world seems oh, so dark,’ hope continues to come from music, dance – and the joy of a glitter cannon.