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Review: Talented cast shines in Erie Playhouse's 'Fame'

By Floyd Lawrence, Erie Times-News
Contributing writer

August 2011

Jealousy ensues when Tyrone (played by Damone Morris) is paired with Kristen (Iris Kelly) in "Fame," the next production of the Erie Playhouse. Shows run from Aug. 5 to Aug. 27, 2011. CONTRIBUTED/Rick Klein/ERIE TIMES-NEWS

The debut of MTV in 1981 and the decade's increased accessibility of cable television were key pop-culture events. Discussions of color barriers and censorship intensified, as did the dreams of fame among young people.

It isn't surprising, then, that David De Silva conceived and produced "Fame" in 1980 or that, in 1988, he transformed the film into "Fame: The Musical." The show traces students at the New York High School for the Performing Arts -- all of them convinced they're "gonna live forever."

If you like '80s nostalgia, catch it at the Erie Playhouse. If you're not a fan of that decade, catch it anyway. It's a fast-moving, sweaty, sexy song-and-dance extravaganza, visually punctuated with leotards and ankle warmers, and blessed with a talented cast of (mostly) young performers -- many of whom no doubt have their own dreams of fame.

Soon after their auditions, those selected for admission learn they must heed four rigorous teachers: Miss Bell (Kelley McDonald), Miss Sherman (Amy Welker, who delivers a poignant "These Are My Children"), Mr. Myers (Bill Williams) and Mr. Sheinkopf (Eric Armbruster).

The loose story ends with their commencement and events are held together by the threads of adolescent love stories. Fiery and self-destructive Carmen fights, among other things, a mother who still considers her "a slut." Rebecca Coleman positively shines, bringing a range of confidence and pathos to her vocals.

Opposites do attract, and Carmen shows much interest in Schlomo (Andrew Dolan), a classically-trained musician from a privileged family. I wish Dolan had more opportunities to exercise his lovely voice.

Another couple, Nick and Serena, bring much angst to their acting ambitions and slowly evolving relationship. The chemistry of Anthony Palermo's Nick and Maggie Cooney's Serena triumphs.

Dynamic Damone Morris is Tyrone, a well-practiced veteran of street dancing, especially hip-hop. When he meets Kristen Marinic's ballet-dancing Iris Kelly, sparks fly. Both performers display exceptional talent and technique.

"Fame" also evokes laughter. Tyler Shearer's Joe (Jose) Vegas has a bawdy sense of humor about many things, including his body. He's mastered the "bump-and-grind." Also noteworthy: Monique Bean, whose "Mabel's Prayer" fills the house with emphatic gospel, and Hilary-Ann Rogers with impressive vocals as Grace.

The high-energy, nine-member ensemble is tireless in its successful efforts to amp up the show's razzle-dazzle. Director and choreographer Richard Davis often showcases individual members, and each one exhibits praiseworthy skills.

MTV as we once knew it may be gone. Ankle warmers are a quaint fashion relic. But the popularity of "Fame" lives on. The Playhouse demonstrates the musical's endurance involves much more than mere nostalgia.


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