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First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 21 April 2008

It may be a West End stalwart with more than 10 years’ history, four London homes, numerous national and international tours and, according to the press material, 2,500 pairs of legwarmers worn so far, but the kids from Fame were still full of infectious energy as the show returned to London last night for a summer season at its fifth West End venue, the Shaftesbury. Can Fame really live forever? Caroline Bishop went along to the press night to find out…

In fact, legwarmers were not in the abundance that I fondly remembered of the dance musical, which is based on the film and television series from the era when the warming of legs was the height of fashion, the 1980s. Instead, an eclectic mixture of clothing is worn by the fame-hungry New York teenagers who are following their dreams to become successful dancers, actors, singers and musicians by attending the New York School for the Performing Arts, known as P.A.

The year group we follow from audition to graduation contains all the affectionate stereotypes: the talented dancer who can’t grasp academia; the daddy’s girl who looks down her nose at her classmates; the singer desperate for fame but impatient with the groundwork; the pianist struggling to get out of his composer father’s shadow; the curvy dancer feeling the pressure to be skinny. This is very much an ensemble cast, who all have their moment to shine, and that they do very well – Natalie Kennedy as Carmen, Desi Valentine as Tyrone and Fem Belling as Mabel particularly stand out with their remarkable singing and dancing talents. There is also strong support in the adult roles, especially Jacqui Dubois as Miss Sherman, the home room teacher who sings the heartfelt These Are My Children

Celebrity casting comes in the form of former Steps band member Ian ‘H’ Watkins, as Nick, and Natalie Casey (Hollyoaks, Two Pints Of Lager) as Serena, the acting duo who form a close friendship. Neither pretends to keep up with the high-kicking exploits of other cast members – they are, after all, playing acting students rather than dance pupils – but both have strong voices that get their time in the spotlight. Nor do they have roles that require them to deviate much from the personalities we already know of them – in fact, the story of Nick has something of a real-life resonance for Watkins – but they make a sweet couple, and Casey in particular injects the show with an ounce of British comedy.

Though the pair got their share of the first night cheers, it is refreshing to see an ensemble cast heartily applauded in its entirety, and that is the lovely thing about Fame. When Carmen leads the cast in belting out the classic final number, the title song, it is obvious that Fame, despite the title, does not rely on big names to prolong its life; it is a joint effort by a talented young cast who are clearly very much enjoying themselves. It may be cheesy, it may be overly moralistic (work hard, don’t run before you can walk, stay off narcotics and you will have a chance at success) but Fame is a classic dance musical that is hard not to enjoy. em>CB


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