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Toronto by Antonio Tan

Fame: The Musical

It was bound to happen sometime.

Following the successful film and a long-running TV series, Fame is now Fame: The Musical, the latest take on David De Silva's original idea of the story of aspiring showbiz personalities who attend the High School of Performing Arts in New York City.

It's not exactly a reincarnation of the movie. For one thing, the story is new (though similar in the original concept), and another, the book and score are new too. But despite the successes of the film and TV series, Fame: The Musical doesn't light up the sky like a flame.

The action takes place between 1980 and 1984, and the musical begins with the students praying they make "P.A." Of course, they all do, and the show opens with "Hard Work," in which the school motto and all the stereotyped characters are introduced to the audience.

Nick Piazza (Gavin Creel) is the aspiring actor, with whom Serena Katz (Jennifer Gambatese), the mild-mannered Meryl Streep wannabe, falls in love.

Tyrone Jackson (Dwayne Chattman) is the illiterate black dancer with an attitude problem. He goes out with Iris Kelly (Nadine Isenegger), the "rich little white girl" who first snubs Tyrone, then falls for him.

Carmen Diaz (Natasha Rennalls) is the Latina drug addict drop-out who runs off to LA in an attempt to achieve immediate fame. Schlomo Metzenbaum (Carl Tramon) is the nerdy Jewish musician who becomes Carmen's love interest for a while.

And then, we have the fat girl, Mabel Washington (Dioni Michelle Collins), who drops dancing for acting (not because her dance partners can't lift her) so she can continue her eating habits. And of course, there is the class clown, Joe Vegas (Jose Restrepo), with the raging hormones.

Miss Greta Bell (Kim Cea) is the dance teacher who lets Tyrone pass onto the next grades for his talent, despite the fact he can't read. Miss Ester Sherman (Regina Le Vert) vehemently opposes this, and goes to great lengths to see that Tyrone doesn't cut any corners.

The story skims along the borderline of entertaining and exhausting, although it bounces back and forth between the two sides. The paper-thin plot does not take off, nor does it run the emotional gamut.

The lack of three-dimensional characters and a winning storyline are compensated with high school humour that gravitates toward absolute irritability. Fame makes fun of the stereotypes and (why not?) even throws in a song about erections. The show even mentions the film Fame, and it takes place four years after its release - and the characters are all aware of it. It can't get any cornier than that.

The score, with music by Steve Margoshes (The Who's Tommy) and lyricist, Jacques Levy (Oh, Calcutta!), is, for the most part, unmemorable. The melodies are not developed to their full potential. It also doesn't help with unpolished lyrics, which further enhances the banality of the pieces. The title song extracted from the film is the only standout (and not even written by Margoshes and Levy, but by Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore). The score remains loud, obnoxious, and seemingly never-ending, as is evident with the "In LA" number sung by Carmen. Not only does it display this clearly, its repetitiousness is extreme overkill.

As for a lot of dance-driven musicals, the choreography for Fame is thrilling. Lars Bethke's choreography takes off with exuberant and flashy jazz moves, but at moments it tends to look and feel mechanical. Bethke's choreography, unfortunately, lacks the grace or polish of a style like Bob Fosse's. It is all fast-paced whiplash, and it gets redundant almost too quickly, although the ballet routines provide a rich contrast.

Despite the energetic performance from the cast, and relatively unbearable material, Fame's energy is the only real spark throughout a rather bland evening at the theatre. It's just another one of those high school stories, full of youthful vibrancy. Unfortunately, that is all that it has going for it.

Fame: The Musical is now playing at the Royal Alexandra. The North American Premiere engagement is sold out. Fame will hit the road for a 40 city North American tour beginning December 28.

And it's beginning to snow ...

It looks like Toronto will be getting snow this Christmas season ... even though we have been having temperatures of 15 degrees Celsius the past week. But David and Ed Mirvish are guaranteeing that we will be getting severe weather conditions from December 26 to January 17. The blizzard, however, won't be happening outside - but inside. Why?

Slava's Snowshow is blowing back into town.

The Snowshow returns to Broadway North after a sold out month-long engagement at the 2,000 seat Princess of Wales Theatre this previous January. Winner of the 1998 Olivier Award for Best Entertainment, the Mirvishes will be bringing back this critically-acclaimed Olivier Award-winning blizzard fest of a show to the more intimate 1,500 seat Royal Alexandra.

If you missed Snowshow earlier this year, make sure you catch it this time. Starring the great Russian clown, Slava Polunin, its dazzling special effects and heartwarming humour will bring out your inner child. The most famous scene in the show, of course, is the fantastic snow blizzard that engulfs Slava and the audience, which literally leaves the audience in a foot-deep of "snow."

This show is great for the whole family, and there is a special offer for four. A huge hit the first time around, the Snow Pack package returns. Priced as low as $69, Slava's Snow Pack includes the four tickets, plus 4 Hagen-Dazs ice cream bars at intermission.

The Snowshow returns December 26, 1998 to January 17, 1999. Call (416) 872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 for tickets ($21.50 to $61.50), or visit the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King Street West) or select Music World locations for tickets.

Jacques Brel is alive and well ... and touring Canada

The new Toronto theatrical company TaurPro Entertainment, in association with IMG Canada Ltd., Howard Bateman and Eric Blau, will be launching a new Canadian production of the beloved Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris in Ottawa this coming March. The show will head to Vancouver's Vogue Theatre, then finally arrive at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre from April 5 to 24, 1999.

Michael Burgess (Les Miz), Louise Pitre (Piaf) and Jeff Hyslop (The Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman) will star, with support from an 8-piece on-stage orchestra playing new orchestrations by Steve Margoshes (Elaborate Lives, The Who's Tommy and Fame). The production will be directed by accomplished singer and performer, Elly Stone.

Tickets ($29 to $65) for Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris are now on sale through TicketMaster at (416) 872-5555, and can be purchased at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre box office (189 Yonge Street) and any TicketMaster outlet.

In Other News ...

Sandra Shamas will be re-opening her new show, Wit's End, at the Winter Garden Theatre this January 14 for only six performances. Her current engagement at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is sold out. Tickets ($15, $25, $35) are now on sale through TicketMaster at (416) 872-5555, and can be bought in person at the box office (189 Yonge Street) and any TicketMaster outlet.

It looks like Oliver! won't be opening on time at the Princess of Wales Theatre this spring. Cameron Mackintosh's new revival of Lionel Bart's classic musical was scheduled to have its North American Premiere in March, but it seems that he may not be able to get the star he wants until the fall. The rumoured star: Michael Crawford. Mackintosh assumedly wants him to take the show on the road and also to Broadway.

And since Oliver! was part of the Mirvishes' Royal Alexandra Theatre's six show subscription season (the Princess of Wales is the sister theatre), they are now looking for a replacement show. The Paper Mill Playhouse production of Gypsy was one of their choices, but discussions are now officially dead. The other rumoured choice was a British production of The Pajama Game directed by Simon Callow, with designs by Frank Stella (who also designed the murals for the Princess of Wales Theatre).

Cabaret is also coming to Toronto. The Toronto venue for the Broadway revival national tour starring Teri Hatcher has not been selected yet. The Mirvishes are in heavy discussions for the show, and it will most likely go into the Princess of Wales if they do get it.

And The Lion King is expected to open in Toronto in late 1999 or early 2000 at ... where else? The Princess of Wales Theatre, the venue which housed the Canadian production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast for two years.

And as for Livent - all of its shows at the Ford Centre (for the moment being managed by the City of Toronto until a suitable operator can be found) have been cancelled, including Noise/Funk, Cirque Ingenieux and Peter Pan. There will be no refunds, as the Livent revenue has been seized by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce due to the current financial status of the company. Instead, ticket holders can exchange their tickets for passes to the Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera starring Peter Karrie.

And finally, there is a new Canadian cast recording: Needfire: Passion of the Heart starring Denny Doherty (of the Mamas and the Papas), Canadian tenor John McDermott, and The Rankins. Needfire had its world premiere at the Princess of Wales Theatre this past June 16, where it enjoyed a successful 5-week run. The show is expected to tour Canada. The new CD can be purchased through TicketKing at (416) 872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333.

That's all from Broadway North this week!

Antonio Tan
www.torstage.cjb.net



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