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Magic City Actors Theatre gives students the spotlight with 'Fame -- the Musical'
September 14, 2010
Mary Colurso -- The Birmingham News

The cast is young. The energy level is high. The leg warmers are fuzzy.

All three things are crucial building blocks for any production of “Fame -- The Musical,” a theater piece inspired by the 1980s movie and television series about New York City’s High School of Performing Arts.

In Birmingham, Magic City Actors Theatre has the basic elements -- and equally important, its heart -- in the right place.

Most of the actors on stage during this short run (just two weekends, through Sept. 19) are area high-school students. Very likely, members of the cast cherish the same goals and ambitions as the characters they portray.

“Fame -- the Musical” gives them an age-appropriate forum to strut their stuff, spread their wings, stretch their skills and project that endearing “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe.

Nothing wrong with that, especially during a time when razzle-dazzle song-and-dance numbers have become extremely popular with TV viewers who adore the high-school show choir on Fox’s “Glee.”

If the fresh-faced performers in “Fame -- the Musical” are Birmingham’s version of Gleeks, well, there’s no reason to throw slushies.

They deserve encouragement for tackling such ambitious material, which requires its principals to entertain us with the big trifecta: singing, dancing and acting.

Aside from traditional group numbers and some jazzy, Broadway-style choreography, “Fame -- the Musical” involves tricky ballet leaps, big, potentially show-stopping ballads and even a few snippets of Shakespeare. (Could Bernadette Peters or Raul Esparza master all that at age 17?)

The performers here succeed to varying degrees, as might be expected, but the entire production -- directed by Carl Dean, with choreography by Dominique Johnson and music direction by Michael King -- proves to be applause-worthy.

Its storyline focuses on a group of wannabe performers moving through a prestigious arts school in Manhattan. Some come from money; others come from the streets. Some are disciplined; others are freewheeling.

We get to know none of them very well, but their challenges and joys are textbook: making the grade, finding real love, avoiding pitfalls, earning self-respect. And, of course, setting themselves up for a bright future.

“Fame -- the Musical” was developed in 1988 by David De Silva, producer of the original movie. The show has been staged many times since its first run in Miami, including an off-Broadway stint and a touring production in the United Kingdom.

The musical itself is unlikely to go down in history alongside classics by Rodgers & Hammerstein, but it’s definitely tuneful enough to hold an audience’s attention for a couple of hours. And yes, it does include the familiar, Oscar-winning theme song from the 1980 film. (Aside from that, the score has been rewritten.)

Kudos to Dean and Johnson for gracefully handling a sometimes-crowded stage at the Virginia Samford Theatre, where some scenes involve more than 20 students. Also, Dean displayed a can-do spirit by briefly stepping into one of the adult roles at the first Sunday matinee. (Cast member Tarashai, who plays dance teacher Miss Bell, was late.)

Overall, this edition of “Fame -- the Musical” seems destined to draw cheers and standing ovations from proud friends, loving relatives and local theater buffs who enjoy spotting fledgling talent. Our advice, if you catch the show this weekend: Save the program, circle the names of your favorites and wish them good luck for more “Fame” in the future.


What: "Fame -- the Musical."
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16-18, 2:30 p.m. Sept. 19.
Where: Presented by Magic City Actors Theatre at the Virginia Samford Theatre, Birmingham, Alabama.
Tickets: $15-$25, 205-251-1206.
Review rating: Three out of five stars.

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