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Review: Fame the Musical at Liverpool Empire ****

You can see why a tale of young dancers, actors and musicians on the cusp of life and striving for fame and success seems a perfect fit for young dancers, actors and musicians….

Well, you get the picture.

And reading the impressive biographies of the cast for this production of Fame the Musical reveals what a talented and committed group of young performers they are. Albeit performers so youthful that in some cases their parents probably barely remember the original film and TV series, let alone their kids.

There is a sly reference to it in the opening scene of the stage version, conceived by the film’s producer David De Silva, where English teacher Miss Sherman (Kaitlin Beecham) warns new students not to expect any dancing on cars….or to ‘live forever’.

But fans of the 80s show shouldn’t expect the kids who go to this high school for performing arts to burst in to renditions of Hi-Fidelity, Desdemona or Starmaker. Even the famous Irene Cara-sun title track only gets an incidental outing, followed admittedly by a starring role in the finale.

Georgia Gagen as Serena. All photos by Jono Symonds

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of singing and dancing from the young cast who have seemingly inexhaustible supplies of energy, and deliver a string of excellent vocal performances – including Bethany Lythgoe (Carmen), Ellie Norton (Mabel) and Georgia Gagen (Serena) for the girls, and Daniel Carter (Nick Piazza) in the boys’ camp.

If you don’t recognise the characters’ names, you’ll certainly recognise the character types. Thus streetwise, ambitious dancer Carmen is a Coco, Jacob Bailey’s outwardly cocky Tyrone is a Leroy, William Callan’s quietly studious Schlomo is a close match for musician Bruno, and Ellie Norton’s wisecracking Mabel is the stage version’s Doris.

There’s also a rich seam of comedy mined by Jamil Abassi, who threatens to steal away with more than one scene as sex-mad Hispanic joker Joe Vegas.

It’s true that plot wise, Fame the Musical isn’t as satisfying as some of the other shows the Empire’s Youth Theatre has tackled in recent years – particularly something like the terrific Legally Blonde.

But it touches on plenty of issues – sexuality and sex (I suspect there might have been some awkward questions from younger members of the audience on the way home), eating disorders, drugs, learning difficulties, familial expectations, and lots and lots of adolescent angst – along with the dance routines and acting classes.

The show looks and sounds great, and the young cast are impressively confident, delivering the big ensemble numbers with real exuberance.

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