“Fame: the Musical” at the IU Auditorium last night and this evening is the story of a class at the New York City School for the Performing Arts. It begins with their nervous wait for letters of acceptance and ends with graduation. The show is based in part on the film and the television series. The production has a talented and personable cast that really throws itself into the action.
The Performing Arts High School where “Fame” is set is a tense place with lots of conflicts. The theatre program, the dance program and the music program are all vying with one another. The only time they unite is when they are defending their arts against the school’s academic programs. Naturally the students have some conflicts with both the school’s arts programs and the academic ones. The story line follows the battles.
The music students want to play rock and roll and let loose, while the curriculum calls for classical music and scales. The dance program is all about ballet and modern while the students are taken with hip-hop. The students in the acting class want to simply be themselves and the teacher tells them that they can’t truly be themselves until they learn what the self means. When it comes to academics, like English it’s a battle between the rigorous demands of the class and all the “Fame” school’s other demands on the students.
Tuesday night’s performance of “Fame” effectively dramatized a number of these conflicts. In arts versus academics there was a vocal battle between Dana Barathy as the dance teacher and Toni Malone as the English teacher. It was a real contest of who could hold the loudest note the longest with a close win for English. In the students versus dance, Anthony Wayne was dynamic as a street-smart dancer who first disrupts the ballet program and then stars in it. In the ever present battle of just growing up, Megan Elizabeth Lewis was touching as a drama student head over heels in love with a fellow who treats her like a sister. Kellee Knighten had a very funny sketch as a gospel-singing dancer who is in a continuous battle with her weight. Mekia Cox as a student almost too competitive for the school itself did a powerful rendition of the title song of “Fame.”
“Fame” is a well mounted, but weak show. There’s not much mystery about high school kids in an arty school to exploit. The music is generally undistinguished and the songs’ lyrics are simple enough that I found myself guessing the next rhymes in some of them. I was surprised at the lack of laughs in “Fame.” The show takes itself too seriously. Some more humor could be a real plus. However, there is plenty of energy in the 80s style choreography and the personable cast contributes some bright spots.
“Fame: The Musical” has its final performance at the IU Auditorium this evening at eight.