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Veteran Orpheus sure to delight younger audiences with at-times risqué musical.

Patrick Langston, The Ottawa Citizen
November 16, 2008

Orpheus Musical Theatre Society closed last season with The Sound of Music and has opened this one with Fame, the Musical. The shows couldn't be more different: the squeaky-clean von Trapp family on one side; on the other, a clamorous, cursing and intense group of aspiring teenage performers struggling toward fame and self-discovery at the revered, and about-to-close, New York High School of Performing Arts. Orpheus's decision to mount the occasionally risqué Fame is part of its bid to expand its audience by appealing to a younger demographic. Whether twentysomethings will flock to Centrepointe Theatre for Fame remains to be seen, but those who do should be delighted.

This is Orpheus's 102nd season, which is not to suggest there's anything arthritic about its production of Fame. Under artistic director Judy Follett-Johns, the predominately and appropriately young cast, much of it new to Orpheus, is energetic, engaged and polished. Nick Nasrallah's tightly executed choreography shows imagination and hours of rehearsal; the singing -- except for some painfully off-pitch moments in the big closing number Bring on Tomorrow -- is vital; and the acting, for the most part, convinces.

Unfortunately, on opening night Friday, the accomplished orchestra under Drummond Hudson frequently threatened to shut out the singers in the first act. The show's second half struck a better balance.

Cast members worthy of special note include Derek (DJ) Eyamie as the brash, perpetually randy Joe (José) Vegas. A classic spotlight-grabbing performer, Eyamie's Vegas remains likeable and fun. He is, alas, in love -- or maybe just in lust -- with fellow student Carmen Diaz (Andréa Black). As addicted to drugs as she is to fame, Diaz rejects Vegas and drifts toward disaster. The musical is not big on character development, but Black's portrayal of Diaz's hunger for public acclaim and the vulnerability beneath her tough exterior are evocative.

Also memorable is Orpheus veteran Lesley Osborn as the highly principled Miss Esther Sherman, the school's English teacher. Dedicated to her students' overall development, she implicitly shows that life is much bigger than just the stage. Her knockout solo number These Are My Children sets the show's vocal benchmark.

And Chad McNamara as one of the unnamed students brings superlative skill and sparkling presence to his dancing. One hopes to see him soon in a larger part.

Fame is not among the great musicals. The script often struggles, the tunes are hardly classics. Despite this, Orpheus makes it a show well worth seeing.

Fame, the Musical continues at Centrepointe until Nov. 23. Tickets & times, 613-580-2700 or www.centrepointetheatre.com.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

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