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Dreambox's adaptation of the hit musical from the '80s is one of the finest productions of 2011


Staging a Thai adaptation of any famous Broadway musical can be daunting. Dreambox has dared to take up the challenge with its new production of Fame: The Musical, which is sure to be remembered as one of the finest productions of 2011.

Inspired by the Alan Parker film and subsequent Broadway show set in New York City's High School of Performing Arts, Fame takes us back to the 1980s for a look at youths being artistically groomed and professionally trained. A parallel to the story itself, this Thai production is like a budding stage for grooming new theatrical talent including winners and other participants of popular song contests such as Academy Fantasia and KPN _ stars in the making.

Like a supermarket where you can shop for top-of-the-line products, this show presents 31 well-trained and ardent star-hopefuls. Just to name a few, AF singer Nat Sakdatorn creates a magical moment as dream-maker Nick Piazza; charming dancer Krittin Kiatmatha flexes his muscles and performs some fancy footwork as hip-hop artist Tyrone Jackson; KPN winner Tassapark Zee dances his way to fame as the comical Jose Vegas; singer Somruthai Prommajan shines as Meryl Streep-wannabe Grace Lamb; and Erica Sunaree Cummings exercises her soulful voice and comic ability as Mabel Washington.

But the real star of the night is Rata Kokilanon, aka Tabby AF6, in the role of Carmen Diaz, a sexy yet cocky dancer with a big ego.

Thanks to her seductive, confident performance and top vocalisation, Rata eye-catchingly grabs the attention of many in the audience who gradually come to identify with her character.

These young and bold leads do more than just bring their good looks and individual charm to the stage. They show their true passion and real talent to become famous as promising singers and dancers. It would be a shame if they are not offered other challenging roles, as each one is artistically capable and passionate about acting.

The vocal talents of diva Maneenuj Samayrasut and the gifted Teeranai Na Nongkai also electrify the show. Despite appearing in supporting roles, they stole the show with their duet "Teacher's Argument" and other scenes. Their audacious yet sonorous renditions as Miss Bell and Miss Sherman, respectively, exhibit boundless vocal supremacy, something that other hopefuls can learn from.

One problem is the storyline, which has been labelled as too pastiche-like and rigid in its linear nature. However, Dreambox has chosen to maintain the original spirit and style, trusting that the key message of this story set in in the 1980s remains universal and relevant to modern audiences.

Instead of localising the story, the production appears more or less like what people around the world experienced while watching the Broadway version of Fame _ only in Thai. This faithful adaptation intertwines issues such as racism, sexism and professionalism in a 1980s American context.

But such a faithful adaptation has its trade-offs. The original structure of the story appears as a compilation of the characters' professional and personal development together with a collage-like, composite narrative focusing on hardships and friendships as the students progress through high school from day 1 to graduation, reminiscent of Dreambox's 2010 production, Namsai Jaijing. The chronological nature of the flow does tend to drag a bit, especially during the first third of the production, inducing the occasional yawn.

Fortunately, the well-translated lyrics and lines by noted scriptwriter Daraka Wongsiri maintains the original spirit, reflecting not only her proficiency in both English and Thai, but also her subtle taste in skilfully retaining the gist of the songs, which are the soul of the show.

If the goal of Fame the Musical is to inspire budding stars to overcome the hardships inherent in their profession, then it does not quite come through due to the nature of the story structure. But if it means to show what young performers must endure in becoming professionally groomed, then this Thai production by Dreambox is successful, especially featuring as it does young talent who are themselves hopeful of one day becoming stars.

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