Theatre Review: Fame - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭

 Review by Anne Mackie

As an 80’s classic, Fame is iconically associated with colourful leg-warmers, batwing jumpers, perms, and rhythmically jumping off a yellow NY taxi to the pop-tastic title number.

Not the 2014 tour.

Director Gary Lloyd and Producer, Bill Kenwright have been quick to revamp the 80’s classic into the 21st Century, setting the piece firmly in the present day – updating dialogue, tampering with melodies, and employing ‘Diversity-style’ choreography, complete with the use of iPads and mobile phones to represent the story’s transition to 2014. Fame’s ‘facelift’ could open the musical up to a new generation, but in this instance, it proves a thoroughly unnecessary operation. To quote the show’s opening number, this production was more ‘Hard Work’ than it was worth.

The production opened with flair and high energy, ultimately setting the bar for the rest of the performance. The ensemble sounded splendid and the choreography proved both dynamic and vibrant, albeit a little too modern. However, as the narrative progressed, the production’s energy took a collateral nose-dive. What became apparent was the lack of true triple threat performers amongst the cast, not to mention an array of slipping American accents. The danger with a show of this calibre is that the movement can often take precedence over other performance elements, resulting in characters becoming mere caricatures as opposed to honest representations of reality. Although Fame fell into this trap, there were a couple of credible stand out performances from those in smaller roles. Molly Stewart as larger than life Mabel Washington comedically came into her own during the second act with a tremendous rendition of ‘Mabel's Prayer’, while Sasi Strallen gave an angelic and well-grounded performance as Iris Kelly, consequently proving the power of a bona fide triple threat performer.

The live band played onstage as part of the action allowing a more unified involvement with the narrative. However, the absence of an official conductor gave the production more of a gig-like dimension pushing the show to appear more ‘rock-concert’ than ‘musical theatre’. Although this suited the overall feel of the production, it left new musical compositions by Musical Director, Tom De Keyser, feeling somewhat forced and largely on one level; ultimately losing the fundamental heart of the piece, and disregarding some poignant moments. Similarly, the custom constructed set by Diego Pitarch was both clever and inventive yet entailed set changes that often seemed unnecessary and awkward.

With a sparsely attended Press Night, it was clear that Fame does not have the following it once used to. A modern day adaption of the cult classic film does indeed have great potential; however Bill Kenwright’s production is trying desperately hard to appeal to a new target audience. Whilst it is important that theatre (of all genres) continues to attract a new following, the question of whether this show works out with its original 80’s setting remains dubious. Theatre goers anticipating a traditional, 80’s-tastic take of the production, should prepare to be disappointed. However, if you prefer the cotemporary over the theatrical, it is perhaps worth a trip to experience the modern, street-style choreography complete with a rock band feel, despite a few shakey principal performances.

2014’s Fame will unlikely ‘live forever’ or ‘learn how to fly’, but will continue running at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 26th April.