Centrestage Productions Youth Theatre [CPYT]  The Point, Eastleigh  David A Putley 27 July  2023

CYPT in the capable hands of Mike Mullen and his team have shown once again how to turn a very difficult adult-themed show into something highly accessible and polished.

And what is being staged is not a dumbed down children only adaption but the real script and score as it would be performed by professionals and as an ensemble piece it works on so many levels in a way I have not experienced this show before. As written, it has disjointed themes- Fame does cost in hard work with previous incarnations seeing the teaching staff as almost the enemy in this demand.

The opening number “Work” here is a disgruntled mobile phone staring chanted anthem when this realisation is thundered home by the 4 “adults” of course played by a similar age group. And these mixed messages prevail throughout, the battle between allowance of self-expression against the need for the basic foundation knowledge to allow that and the character kickbacks be that “now” auditions, a well-known talented parent influence, education and negative outside influences.

As written the piece does not allow for much character development as such because we only get a snapshot of the 3 years and individual stories get diluted along the way because of the number involved. However, this did not impact on this powerful and skilful cast giving a rare energy to their assigned parts and making it so believable and, dare I say, raw. All the leads were expressive, dedicated to the moment and high-class singer interpreters. The chorus were equally as “in the moment” with the excellent choreography being expertly executed with vim by all on stage. Everyone was allowed a moment, be it a bit of ballet or acting or inter-action creating a very uniform and professional feel combined with smart usage of filing cabinet front for scenery moving on and off: very good for the drum kit and all smoothly done.

There are so many good things to say that may spoil the experience for those who have not seen Fame before. Freddie Harvey and Serena Katz showed sheer joy in their respective scenes, the singing and acting of a high standard throughout-the double-hand-holding during the reprise of “Let’s play A Love Scene” was a lovely touch and indicative of attention to detail by director/choreographic team of Mike Mullen, Hannah Gale and Pertice Gordon. The Dancing On the Sidewalk number, the use of the school desks, the vibrancy of all the dancing throughout was a joy.

Harry Taylor beautifully underplayed Schlomoe. His scenes with a firecracker of a performance from Izzy Li as Carmen Diaz, especially their duet of “Bring On Tomorrow” were delicately done and warm contrast to other elements of the written script that demand a more forthright approach. Such was energetically and comedically provided by Joe Vegas as Josh whose presence throughout allowed for expert comic timing and a real belief it was all a show; his scene with the Romeo rejection called for a different approach which was so well conceived and done. Matching him was Georgia Brenchley as Mabel thoroughly immersing herself in the “See Food” diet and perceived body shaming issues and triumphantly overcoming them all when changing majors.

Karcasi Wright and Faye Sherman exhibited a real talent for their dance major, combing their acting skills too with a real sense of bonding. Tyrone’s new found joy in finally being able to read poetry and the ensuing scene with Iris was wonderful to see as were his scenes with an encouraging Miss Bell. Faye’s explanation as to her money situation and the chauffer dad was natural and movingly done all whilst taking off and putting on appropriate footwear. Excellent support from Immie Crabtree playing well placed drums and attitude as Lambchops and Luke Sharples as Goody adding some much-needed humour to the set pieces gave a good camaraderie especially in the difficult leaving scene in Act 2 when discovering a down and out Carmen. With elements of La Boheme/Rent as written where none of her former classmates offer real support in the form of a shower, somewhere to stay and a Batchelor’s cup-a soup, leaving her coldly to pursue their own FAME, this was empathetically done by all concerned. And, of course as a plot device we get to hear Izzy pour her heart into “In L.A” which was amazing with both soft and emotional changes in vocal dexterity. Even Schlomoe only offers her $50 his dad had given him, but an almost reluctance to just walk off was nicely delivered between him and Carmen.

Matching all the above were the cast of youngsters playing the teaching staff. I was completely bowled over by the confidence and believability of the 4 of them in their roles. Alicia Lambert completely embodied her role as the frustrated Miss Sherman, the reaction to her slap and vocal dexterity during “My children” particularly impressive. Add to that Abi Moore as a feisty vocally brilliant Ms Bell, this combination sizzled in the finale Act 1 “Teacher’s Argument” and you are as near perfection as you can get. Both deserve suitable accolades for their performance of this complex number which would make even professional baulk. It is clear much work had been put into that by Ian Partridge as Musical Director and it paid off handsomely. With lack of a song and much dialogue, Will Vokes brought much to his role as Mr Myers, displaying an empathy and concern throughout his short appearances, shining particularly on the Romeo scene alongside his Acting Class. I liked Rianna Russell’s direct approach as the Music Teacher delivering her lines on the move being well thought out and directed.

Excellent direction both in acting and singing throughout with powerhouse performances from all concerned, front and backstage professionalism including a note perfect well-balanced band expertly secluded above the proceedings, prove that Fame is not all it is cracked up to be but enjoyable all the same.