Fame gets 21st century makeover for Playhouse

Fame the Musical Bill Kenwright production. Pic: Comp
Fame the Musical Bill Kenwright production. Pic: Comp
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LEG warmers. Tick. Leotards. Tick. Big hair. Tick. No, wait a minute, scrub that. Fame has had a makeover.

For 25 years now, Fame: The Musical has been touring the UK, introducing generation after generation of new theatre goers to the kids from the New York School of Performing Arts - otherwise known as the Kids from Fame.

Of course, it’s hardly surprising. The success of the musical was built on the phenomenal reception received by the 80s TV series of the same name, which itself was inspired by the Oscar-winning 1980 Alan Parker movie.

All were firmly set in the decade that taste forgot, hence the leg-warmers. So, imagine being given the challenge of re-inventing such an iconic piece of musical theatre.

That was what faced Gary Lloyd, when West End producer Bill Kenwright asked him to give his touring show a makeover for its 25th anniversary.

The choreographer, whose other credits include Thriller Live, has brought a mix of contemporary dance, ballet, flamenco, tap and street to the new production, which runs at the Playhouse all this week.

He explains that his aim was to bring the piece up to date while not alienating fans of the original.

“The idea was they could come and enjoy it, see all the iconic moments and also bring their kids with them and they could relate to it as well,” says Lloyd, himself a fan of the original film.

“It goes back to me being nine years old and the movie coming out and being responsible for doing what I do,” admits the 43-year-old.

Now set in 2014, at the world famous High School for Performing Arts New York, Fame follows the story of a group of young talented hopefuls who undertake the journey of their lives.

Bringing Fame into the 21st century, however, isn’t without its dangers. After all, it is for very good reason that it has become one of the top touring musicals of recent times.

“It’s not that we’ve remixed the whole thing. Some of the songs have been stripped back to make them more intimate and tell the story a bit more, so it’s a re-orchestration rather than a remix,” Lloyd is quick to point out.

The production also features one of the show’s youngest ever casts, all energetic and fresh from drama school.

“There are hundreds of colleges turning out a lot more kids so there’s more competition out there. The talent is stronger. I wanted to cast quadruple threats in this. Not only do they have to sing, dance and act, they need to play instruments as well.

“It’s set in the modern day and it’s worked from the actors’ point of view because they are so young and are graduates or a couple of years beyond graduation, and relate to the time a lot more,” says Lloyd, adding, “We are getting something that’s a lot more real, a lot more gritty.”

Reality is important he insists.

“The film was based on reality. The one thing the director Alan Parker did was allow the music and dance to come through the storytelling and concentrate on the characters, as he does in all of his films.

“That’s what I wanted to do with this new production.

“The social issues in the story are a little more understood in this country than they were when it first came out because we swept a lot under the carpet for 15 years.

“Now we’re dealing with social issues like learning disabilities and drugs. There’s a broader understanding. It feels the time is right to do this kind of production with the show.”

Still, many of the shows favourite songs remain, including Fame and Let’s Play A Love Scene.

Thankfully, Lloyd’s new take on the old favourite has won the blessing of David de Silva, the man who conceived the original stage version.

“I’ve kept him in the loop with all the changes and he’s been very supportive,” reveals Lloyd.

“He’s a very sharp guy and is into web sites, tweeting and all of that, so he gets the value of bringing that into his brand.

“Shows like Glee, High School Musical and Step Up have taken Fame’s inspiration and done something modern with it. So we want to take this step forward with Fame which has a better story and stronger characters and do the same.”

Fame The Musical, tonight-Saturday, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £12.90-£41.40, 0844-871 3014