The current show at North Shore Music 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 that landmark building before moving to Lincoln Center as LaGuardia High School. Director and choreographer Richard Stafford takes his 32 member cast and makes this musical into exuberant, energetic spectacle that captivates the audience from the opening group numbers "Pray I Make P.A." and "Hard Work" ( the first is about how these kids want to get accepted at the Performing Arts School and the latter is about whether acting, dancing or music is the 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 teachers and these performers pull it off without a hitch.
Richard casts the students in this show wonderfully by having them really high school students or close enough so they don't look too old for the roles and also casts four strong actors as the teachers His blocking and choreography is superb and includes ballet, modern and jazz. The energy is contagious and makes you want to jump out of your seat to join the cast onstage. Richard uses 12 young area performers in the show to dance with the equity performers. ( I met two of them, Presilah Nunez and Alex Deleo, before the show and they are currently cramming for their finals while the show is running.) Music director and conductor Andrew Graham gets the best sound of the cast and orchestra making the numbers soar with their intensity and power. The scenic design by Howard Jones, the colorful costumes by Joanna Murphy, lighting design by David Neville and sound design by John Stone are all done excellently and help add the finishing touches to this splendid show.
The teachers in the show are played by Inga Ballard, Michael Brian Dunn, Rosemary Loar and Rex Hays. Inga is dynamite as Miss Sherman, the English teacher who is very strict with her students. She has fabulous stage presence and gets to show off her powerful singing voice in a gorgeous ballad called "These Are My Children" where she shows how much she really cares about the kids while disciplining them. Inga belts out this song beautifully with great emotion and she and Rosemary 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 are artists special or are all people special? Michael 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. Rex plays the strict music teacher, Mr. Sheinkopf who leads the students in their chorus numbers before each class year and scolds his music students for playing their own music instead of Mozart.
The acting students Nick, Serena and Jose are played by Jonathan Groff, Jenna Gavigan and Gerard Salvador. Jonathan plays Nick who has appeared in commercials as a child but wants to really learn about acting. He gets to show off his strong tenor voice in "I Want to Make Magic". Jenna plays the girl who has crush on Nick all four years of school. Her beautiful soprano voice is utilized fully in the lovely ballad, "Let's Play a Love Scene" and in the belty ballad "Think of Meryl Streep" after she gets cast as Juliet. Gerard plays the cocky Jose who adopts Joe Vegas as his persona. He handles a lot of comic moments in the show and is especially funny as Romeo from the Bronx.
The dancing students Carmen, Tyrone, Iris and Mabel are played by Lynette Marrero, Eric Anthony, Kathleen Nanni and Krystle Pyram. Lynette, a triple threat performer, is fantastic as Carmen, a girl who will do anything to make it in show biz. She gets to sing the title number and brings down the house in the first act and in the second sings a song of desperation called "In L.A." when she returns to NYC after being used and dumped by a producer in California. Eric as Tyrone, is the illiterate student who has a fifth grade reading level and also has a chip on his shoulder. Tyrone falls in love with the prima ballerina, Iris, and finally he realizes he needs to repeat his senior year and get a good education. Eric's two numbers are "Tyrone's Rap" which displays the anger of the character (he and four dancers use a mirror in this song) and "Dancin on the Sidewalk" which displays his love of dancing after a big argument with Miss Sherman where his classmates reject him for his bad behavior. Kathleen gets to show off her dancing expertise in the ballet segments and in the Pas de Deux dance with Eric. Krystle is outstanding as Mabel who loves to eat. She majors in dance and finally realizes she has to starve herself too much and decides to switch her major to acting. Her gospel number called "Mabel's Prayer" is done with great feeling and brings down the house with her comic antics.
The three musicians, Schlomo, Grace and Goodman are played by Dennis Moench, Ambere Rogers and Warren Freeman. Dennis does an excellent job as the nerdy violinist who falls in love with Carmen after they write "Bring On Tomorrow". His disappointment when she leaves him to go to LA is heartfelt and he tugs at your heartstrings when he tells the graduation audience their song is dedicated to Carmen's memory. Dennis' violin playing during this song brought many tears to many eyes in the audience. Ambere does a great job as the tomboy drummer and Warren is very funny as the nerdy trumpet playing member of their band. Kudos to the whole cast on a job well done. So for an evening of energetic magic, be sure to catch "Fame" at North Shore Music Theatre before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.