Fame -- the Musical
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., April 25, 2003
Fame -- the Musical: All About the Work
Beverly Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theatre, through May 4
Running Time: 2 hrs
"Fame! I'm gonna live forever." If you were born before 1980, chances are you're familiar with these lyrics. Before the musical Fame, there was the film and the TV show about the students at the New York High School of Performing Arts, where various combinations of young men and women, of different races and social strata, experience the stress of school, the angst of youth, the uncertainty of adulthood -- and they're artists!
Casting all aspersions regarding the script aside, any musical is a complicated proposition, and director Linda Nenno keeps this SilverStar Theater Group production moving. Multiple settings are called for throughout, and Nenno's actors whisk with alacrity the bare necessities on and off the set, an illogical and selectively decayed generic schoolhouse designed by Stephen A. Laban that makes no sure statement and does little more than serve as a backdrop to the action. Sound is always a particular challenge at the Sheffield Hillside Theatre in Zilker Park, and while it has its problems here, designer Stacey Harris allows us to hear practically every word of the play, including the song lyrics. Amber Tomblin as the budding actress Serena sings well because she keeps it simple and has the voice and persona to handle songs like the schlocky "Let's Play a Love Scene." Same with Andrea Smith, who plays the weight-challenged Mabel, broadly and believably selling lyrics asking God to save her from eating whatever's in front of her. Much of the rest of the cast is uneven in acting, vocal, or movement skills, so despite the exceptions, the overall presentation is uneven as well.
Only occasionally do musicals like this, with lines this hackneyed and songs this uninspired, become part of the popular culture. It's an indication of how starved we are for entertainment that we'll resort, eventually, to the cliché. While actual wisdom can be found in this script -- one line is, "It's all about the work," and few truer things were ever said -- I think most instances of it are accidental because there are so many lines like "Let's rock this place," "What about the band?," and "Tomorrow I'll be on a silver bird winging my way to dreamland." And check out these lyrics, almost the antithesis of Hamlet's sound acting advice in his speech to the players: "Think of all the feelings/ Wasted on this creep/Think of how you could use them/Think of Meryl Streep." Think of Meryl Streep?! That's the key to acting?!
I might be more the fool; writer Jose Fernandez and lyricist Jacques Levy might actually have meant to write a story this trite, but I doubt it. Call it a guilty pleasure. I can't help but enjoy lyrics like, "We always seem to be/Sister and brotherly/It's such a lovely way to be." If you feel the same, you'll find dozens just like it. In that sense, the rewards of Fame -- the Musical are multitudinous, and you'll get to see some energetic, and some truly talented, young people as well. Plus, it's in the park, and it's free, and you can never beat that. But don't go alone. You'll enjoy it more with a like-minded friend.