Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Fame"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show by Encore Repertory Company at the Stadium Theatre is "Fame" which began as an Academy Award winning movie in 1980. Then it became an Emmy Award winning TV series and finally, an international musical theater production. The show follows a group of gifted students through four grueling, exhilarating years at New York City's High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street from 1980 to 1984. The class of '84 was the last class to graduate from the landmark building before moving to Lincoln Center as LaGuardia High School. The show is a bittersweet but ultimately inspiring story of a diverse group of students and it explores the issues that confront many young people today:issues of prejudice, identity, self-worth, literacy, sexuality, substance abuse and perseverance. Director Alfred Fortier III takes his 43 member cast and makes this musical into an exuberant, energetic spectacle that captivates the audience from the opening group numbers, "Pray I Make P.A." and "Hard Work" with the first about how these kids want to get accepted to the school and the latter about whether acting, dancing or music is really the hardest course in the school, to the closing poignant number "Bring on Tomorrow" at the 1984 graduation. This sensational show is a perfect blend of comic and dramatic moments in the lives of high school students and their teachers and these talented performers pull it off without a hitch.

Fred blocks the show beautifully on his two story set and obtains stunning performances from this young cast. He mixes the comic and dramatic moments together perfectly. Music director Jeff Kimball obtains the best sound from them and his orchestra making the numbers soar with their intensity and power. Choreographer Meaghan Bruneaut's dance numbers include a minuet, ballet, modern and jazz dance. The dance numbers stop the show with their excellent execution by the entire cast. Hard working stage manager, Ashley Dougan keeps things running smoothly all night long with set changes. The teachers in the show are played by Nicole Franklin, Alexandra Fandetti, Brian Lopes and Michael Harrison. Nicole is dynamite as Miss Sherman, the English teacher who is very strict with her students. She has a strong stage presence and shows off her strong singing voice in a gorgeous ballad called "These Are My Children" which shows how much she really cares about the students while disciplining them. It is a tear jerker song ala "You'll Never Walk Alone". Nicole belts out this song excellently with great emotion. She and Alexandra as Miss Bell, the dance teacher do a superb job on "The Teacher's Argument" concerning a student who can't read but dances perfectly. Their argument is whether artists are special or are all people special? I reviewed Alexandra previously when she was a student at Assumption College in "Guys & Dolls" and as Velma in "Chicago". Brian plays Mr. Myers the acting teacher who wants the students to show their inner beings to each other and wants them to grow into their roles. Michael plays the strict German music teacher, Mr. Sheinkopf. He makes them practice Mozart and scolds them when they play their own kind of music.

The acting students Nick, Serena and Jose are played by Tyler Begnoche, Meghan Lydon and Andrew Williamson. Tyler who I last reviewed as the Tin Man in "Wizard of Oz", plays Nick who has appeared in commercials as a child but wants to really learn about acting. He shows off his tenor voice in "I Want to Make Magic" where it soars off the charts as well as in "Love Scene" reprise . Nick finally gets to play Romeo and win the girl of his dreams. Tyler does a marvelous job in this role and will be a freshman at Hofstra University. Meghan plays the girl who has a crush on Nick all four years of school. Serena grows from nerdy girl and blossoms into a swan at the end of the show. Her beautiful soprano voice is heard in the lovely ballad, "Let's Play a Love Scene" and in the upbeat belting ballad, "Think of Meryl Streep" after she has a fight with Nick about whether he is gay or not. It happens after she gets cast as Juliet. Meghan is terrific in this part. Andrew is topnotch as he plays the cocky Jose who adopts Joe Vegas as his persona. He handles a lot of comic moments in the show including a fantastic song about always having a hard on called "I Can't Keep It Down". Andrew does a splendid dance during it. He is also funny as Romeo from the Bronx and he also does a dynamite song and dance to "There She Goes" with Carmen in the second act.

The dancing students Carmen, Jack, Iris and Mabel are played by Nicole Calkins, Matt Zanfagna-Piva ,Audrey Catalano and Nicole Poor. Nicole, a triple threat performer is fabulous as Carmen, a girl who will do anything to make it in show biz. She sings the title number and brings down the house with it in the first act. In the second act Nicole sings a song of desperation called "In L.A." when she returns to NYC after being used and dumped by a producer in California. She is very poignant as this tragic character. Matt as Jack is the illiterate student who has dyslexia and also has a chip on his shoulder. Jack falls in love with the prima ballerina, Iris. He eventually realizes he needs to repeat his senior year to receive a good education. Matt's two numbers are a dynamic ballet scene in Act 1 and "Dancin' on the Sidewalk" where he displays his love of dancing after a huge argument with Miss Sherman. Jack calls her a bitch in this scene. Matt and his classmates perform a topnotch dance during it. Matt shines in this role. Audrey has a chance to show off her dancing expertise as Iris in the ballet segments and in the Pas de Deux dance with Jack. She also has a comic scene with Mabel, eating vanilla pudding in front of her and a dramatic scene with Jack, confronting him about his reading problem. Nicole Poor is outstanding as Mabel who loves to eat. She majors in dance and finally realizes she has to starve herself too much. Mabel decides to switch her major to acting. Nicole's gospel number called "Mabel's Prayer is done with soaring emotions. She stops the show with her comic antics and terrific voice.

The three musicians, Scholmo, Grace and Goodman are played by Adam Landry, Amanda Crimmins and Gian DiCostanzo. Adam does an excellent job as the shy pianist who falls in love with Carmen after they write the rousing anthem "Bring on Tomorrow". Scholmo's disappointment when she leaves him to go to L.A. is heartfelt and he tugs at your heartstrings when he confesses to Carmen that he loves her when she returns to NY. "Bring on Tomorrow" is done as the finale when Scholmo tells the audience this song is dedicated to Carmen's memory, which leaves the audience in tears during it. Amanda does a great job as the tomboy drummer and Gian is hilarious as the nerdy trumpet playing member of the band. They have several comic scenes with Adam during the show. Kudos to the whole cast and crew for doing a marvelous job with this show. So for an evening of energetic entertainment, be sure to catch "Fame, the Musical" at Stadium Theatre.

"Fame" (19 - 21 August)
@ Stadium Theatre,28 Monument Square Main Street, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide