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"Fame"

by Tony Annicone

The current show at Rhode Island College Theatre is "Fame" which began as an Academy Award winning movie in 1980. Then it became an Emmy Award winning TV series and finally, an international musical theater production. The show follows a group of gifted students through four grueling, exhilarating years at New York City's High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street from 1980 to 1984. The class of ' 84 was the last class to graduate from the landmark building before moving to Lincoln Center as LaGuardia High School. Director Bill Wilson takes his 31 member cast and makes this musical into an exuberant, energetic spectacle that captivates the audience from the opening group numbers "Pray I Make P.A." and "Hard Work" with the first about how these kids want to get accepted to the school and the latter about whether acting, dancing or music is really the hardest course in the school to the closing poignant number "Bring on Tomorrow" at the 1984 graduation. This sensational show is a perfect blend of comic and dramatic moments in the lives of high school students and their teachers. These talented college performers pull it off without a hitch.

Bill blocks the show beautifully and obtains stunning performances from this youthful cast. Music director Anthony Torelli obtains the best sound out of them and the orchestra making the numbers soar with their intensity and power. Choreographer Angelica Vessella's dance numbers include a minuet, ballet, modern dance and jazz. The dance numbers stop the show with their excellent execution by the entire cast. The scenic design by Chris Abnernathy is topnotch.and the gorgeous costumes are by Charlotte Dunning Burgess. The teachers in the show are played by Talia Triangelo, Kelsie Brejcha, David Groccia and Nicholas Thibeault. Talia is dynamite as Miss Sherman, the English teacher who is very strict with her students. She has a tremendous stage presence and shows off her powerful voice in a gorgeous ballad called "These Are My Children" where she shows how much she really cares about the students while disciplining them. It is a tearjerker song ala "You'll Never Walk Alone". Talia belts out this song excellently with great emotion and she and Kelsie as Miss Bell, the dance teacher do a superb job on "The Teacher's Argument" concerning a student who can't read but dances perfectly. Their argument is whether artists are special or are all people special? David plays Mr. Myers the acting teacher who wants the students to show their inner beings to each other and wants them to grow into their roles. Nick plays the strict music teacher, Mr. Sheinkopf who scolds his music students for playing their own music instead of Mozart.

The acting students Nick, Serena and Jose are played by Naysh Fox, Sarah Pothier and Joe Nicastro. Naysh plays Nick who has appeared in commercials as a child but wants to really learn about acting. He gets to show off his tenor voice in "I Want to Make Magic". Nick finally gets to play Romeo and win the girl of his dreams. Sarah plays the girl who has a crush on Nick all fours years of school. Serena goes from nerdy girl with glasses and blossoms into a swan by the end of the show. Her beautiful soprano voice is utilized fully in the lovely ballad, "Let's Play a Love Scene" and in the upbeat belting ballad, "Think of Meryl Streep" after she gets cast as Juliet. Only a freshman she excels with her marvelous voice and acting skills in this role. Joseph plays the cocky Jose who adopts Joe Vegas as his persona. He handles a lot of comic moments in the show including a terrific song about a hard on called "I Can't Keep It Down" where he and the boys do a splendid dance. He is also funny as Romeo from the Bronx where he and the cast do a minuet while dressed with capes like a bullfight.

The dancing students Carmen, Tyrone, Iris and Mabel are played by Marissa Silva, James Burgis, Alexandra Liszewski and Chantell Arraial. Marissa a triple threat performer is fantastic as Carmen, a girl who will do anything to make it in show biz. She gets to sing the title number and brings down the house with it in the first act. In the second act she sings a song of desperation called "In L.A." when she returns to NYC after being used and dumped by a producer in California. Marissa is very poignant as this tragic character. James as Tyrone is the illiterate student who has dyslexia and also has a chip on his shoulder. Tyrone falls in love with the prima ballerina, Iris and finally realizes he needs to repeat his senior year and receive a good education. James' two numbers are "Tyrone's Rap'' which displays the anger of the character and "Dancin' on the Sidewalk where he displays his love of dancing after a huge argument with Miss Sherman where he calls her a bitch. He and his classmates perform a dance with their desks. Alexandra has a chance to show off her dancing expertise as Iris in the ballet segments and in the Pas de Deux dance with Tyrone. Chantell is outstanding as Mabel who loves to eat. She majors in dance and finally realizes she has to starve herself too much and decides to switch her major to acting. Her gospel number called "Mabel's Prayer" is done with soaring emotions and brings down the house with her comic antics.

The three musicians, Schlomo, Grace and Goodman are played by Brendan Macera, Juliette Sallaway and Derek Capobianco. Brendan does an excellent job as the shy trombonist who falls in love with Carmen after they write "Bring on Tomorrow". His disappointment when she leaves him to go to L.A. is heartfelt and he tugs at your heartstrings when he tells Carmen he loves her when she returns to NY and at the graduation when he tells the audience their song is dedicated to Carmen's memory. This rousing song brings tears to everyone in the audience. Juliette does a great job as the tomboy musician and Derek is comical as the nerdy trumpet playing member of the band. Kudos to the dancing chorus and leading them is Alex Cruz who I reviewed as Paul in "A Chorus Line" in Fall River last year. So for an evening of energetic entertainment, be sure to catch "Fame" at Rhode Island College before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Fame" (14 - 17 April)
RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE THEATRE
@ Community Players, Jenks Auditorium, Division Street, PAWTUCKET MA
(401)726-6860

Review copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone


 

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