Presented by third year students at The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester.
Fame, I wanna live forever! Surely everyone must have heard those famous lines; although I doubt that when they were written for a film in 1980, anyone would have believed then in the longevity and popularity of not only that one song but of the whole concept. The film went on to spawn several spin-offs, a remake, a TV series, and of course the stage Musical which I saw this afternoon.
And what better Musical for a group of in-training Musical Theatre performers to perform, when the key themes of this Musical - study hard, no instant fame, tough business, and only the best and most dedicated make it - will resonate with each and every one of them, and indeed anyone who has been through the Drama School mill.
However, yes... let me get my negativity out of the way first... why the director felt the need to update just one or two lines, add a girl using mobile phone video and have the "Class of 2015" I really cannot imagine. The characters and style of show, along with much of the dialogue is just a little 'dated' now, admittedly; but the themes and characters' anxieties, universal. If it really were 2015, then we are far too PC to acknowledge 'fat' as an OK word to use in regard to Mabel for example, and a teacher would most definitely get suspended and an inquiry brought into place if she had slapped a student in today's world. No, leave well alone... it is 'of its day' and a glorious testament to its time.
Further, the Musical is set in New York, and some of the cast would have benefited from the help of a dialect coach. Accents went from Mid-West to Oldham!
OK... enough negativity!! Ignoring the above it really was a glorious show. The energy and enthusiasm shone through every single cast member. All of them extremely talented singers (the chorus numbers were magnificent), dancers, actors and even a couple proving to be proficient musicians too!
For those that don't know the story, then it tells of a group of students at the NY School of Performing Arts and follows them through from audition to graduation. Naturally there are small sub-plots involving individual characters, and then these plots intermingle with each other as, in real life, our lives and loves become part of other peoples' stories too. One of the main such plots is that of Carmen Diaz, a Latin American student at the school. Beautiful and talented but with a fiery Latin temperament. She wants fame and success just a little too quickly and that is her downfall. She takes drugs, becomes addicted, meets a "talent scout" who wants to take her to LA, and so only after she goes with him does she realise exactly what "talent" he had in mind, ends up working in a strip club finally making her way back to the Big Apple. She is recognised and welcomed back by her classmates, although she knows that she could never actually return to school, nor return the all-forgiving unconditional love Scholomo has for her. She is filled with drugs and not thinking straight; and overdoses, killing herself.
In this production the role of Carmen went to Corianne Brooks. Perhaps I should have asked for her autograph after the show; I have the feeling that signature might be worth something in the future!
Another such sub-plot is the story of Tyrone, a young black dyslexic dancer from 'The Hood'. A poor, predominantly black neighbourhood of NY. His time at PA is not a happy one; but he does fall in love with the most unlikely of candidates, the exotic Classical ballet trained Iris. Tyrone was played with real vigour by Ramone O'Sullivan and Iris played with style by Evie Blackstock.
And when Scholomo, played by Osian Griffiths, started his graduation speech talking of Carmen, I had real tears in my eyes. And for those of you who don't know me; that is a very rare bird indeed!
It would be impossible to mention all the cast by name, there were so many! And all of them very good indeed. However, I really do need to make one very special mention here too. Sadly, due to rather unfortunate circumstances, the actor who had been playing the role of Joe Vegas was unable to continue to do so, and so, this afternoon's performance saw another young actor step up to the bar to be counted. He had had only a couple of hours rehearsal, and walked on stage with the score in his hands [for comfort more than anything else since he really didn't refer to it much!], but my, oh my! What a little power-house of a performer he was! No doubt those from The Arden who are reading this will correct me if I write his name incorrectly here; but I think it was Luke Roopchard. One massive congratulation to you young man!
The weaker links in this otherwise strong chain, came from those actors playing the teachers. These roles are actually a lot more difficult to place than one may think, especially if you are student and the same age and have the same experience as those you are supposedly teaching. Further, the Musical does not really allow them much time to develop their characters or stories, focusing, in the main, on the students. However, there is chance for Laura Lee-Broomhead to show us what a wonderful voice she has with what should be every teachers' hymn, These Are My Children.
The very simple composite set design, using a large open area surrounded by school lockers, benches, and an entrance-way etc, really worked well. I liked the idea of using two levels and having the drum kit and keyboard up on the side. Could you not though have had also the tables on stage somehow too? It was just a tad clumsy getting them on and off and the moving of the metal legs noisy. (Gaffer tape over the metal parts dulls this noise nicely!). Costumes were also very good. The dance and acting class wok clothes reminding me of my Drama School student days!! You see, some things never change!
The band, high above the stage providing a great soundtrack for the cast, under the competent direction of Robert Purvis. However, no idea who to point my finger at here, but the solo riffs in Hard Work were inaudible.
The choreography was perhaps just a little 'safe' or unambitious generally, but was nevertheless extremely well executed. It is actually quite difficult to make choreography look ad hoc and disorganised, bringing the whole company round to a rousing unison movement for Dancing on the Sidewalk, but that was beautifully done. The credit for both choreography and direction goes to Mykal Rand.
Overall, I left the theatre humming the title song, pleasantly surprised at the amount of vitality and (a little raw) talent I had just witnessed. A most enjoyable afternoon in the company of these stars-in-the-making. Bring on tomorrow - let it shine!
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 4th December 2015