Review: ‘Fame the Musical’ at the New Theatre, Oxford

Stage

‘Fame’, conceived and developed by David de Silva and directed by Nick Winston, is on for four nights at the New Theatre on George Street. If musical theatre at its most explosive is your thing, definitely go: the show is a hyperactive extravaganza of dance and song, bounding through two hours of dynamic performance with inextinguishable energy.
‘Fame The Musical’ follows the high school years of a cohort of students at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts, from first auditions to graduation. There is little in the way of plot; the play is a montage of about fifteen different characters whom we flick between, picking up little pieces of their stories between exhibitions of their performative talents. One student, Mabel [Hayley Johnson], struggles with her weight in a world where appearance is everything; another girl, Iris [Jorgie Porter] pretends to be wealthy and privileged to gain popularity. We get glimpses into more tragic predicaments like Tyrone’s [Jamal Crawford] crippling dyslexia, and Carmen’s [Stephanie Rojas] impatience with education; she drops out of school and eventually dies of a drug overdose.
As an English student I find the constant shifting between many so many lives frustrating because there is not time for any significant character development – but that is clearly the point. The backdrop of the stage is a yearbook-style grid of photographs which light up different faces at intervals, poignantly suggesting the dispensability of the individual in the intensely competitive world of the performing arts. The continually swinging focus from student to student also builds up the momentum and impetus that pulses through the performance: our attention is constantly pulled in opposite directions in imitation of the array of pressures and priorities in teenage life.
Mica Paris steals the show as Miss Sherman, a strict disciplinarian but devoted teacher who perceives the students as her own personal legacy; this forms the concept of her stunning solo, ‘These Are My Children’. Her voice is breathtakingly full, with a mellow richness that betrays her gospel roots; think Aretha Franklin meets Ella Fitzgerald. No exaggeration.
Overall ‘Fame The Musical’ was not quite my cup of tea – I found the almost aggressive energy dizzying and the vaudeville-esque style slightly unfulfilling. If however you are after an evening bursting with raw and aspirational animation, and uproarious pop-opera is just what floats your boat, ‘Fame’ will be right up your street!