All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.
Carmen’s strung out, Tyrone’s flunking English, and Serena just can’t catch her crush’s eye. Layering high school drama with Brecht, Beethoven, and ballet shoes, Freedom High School delivered a solid performance of Fame the Musical on Saturday night.
Fame chronicles the lives of eleven gifted teenage artists throughout their four years at New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts, better known as “P.A.” Though the students differ in their economic status, cultural background, and talent level, all are united in pursuing an elusive goal: fame. Based on the 1980 movie produced by David De Silva, this 1984 stage show features a book by Jose Fernandez, music by Steve Margoshes, and lyrics by Jacques Levy. Despite deviating from the film’s plot, Fame pays tribute to its parent project with the iconic number, “There She Goes/Fame.”
Ensemble-oriented by nature, Freedom’s production nevertheless showcases standout performances by several talented actors. Shelly Walsh’s heartfelt portrayal of Serena Katz, a timid but determined acting student, demonstrated Walsh’s own dedication to her craft. Walsh gradually altered her physicality and posture throughout the evening to transform Serena from a shrinking violet to a blossoming young artist. Her newfound confidence, bolstered by frustration over unrequited love, is evident in her moving rendition of “Think of Meryl Streep.” Soaring vocals and consistent emotional investment were mirrored by fellow Junior Jake Barber, who played perfectionist violinist Schlomo Metzenbaum. His skilled performance of hopeful ballad “Bring on Tomorrow” left the audience choked up, and Barber brought the house to tears in his finale graduation address. Adding a comedic breath of fresh air, Sierra Orr’s wisecracking Mabel Washington shone throughout the show as she struggled to avoid becoming “the world’s fattest dancer.” Other notable performances include athletic Telos Fuller as rebellious hip hop artist Tyrone Jackson and Monica Thapa in the role of Ms. Myers, an inspirational acting teacher.
In addition to principals, Freedom’s production included a talented ensemble of dancers. Appareled in Flashdance-style costumes, these nine performers presented pointe, tap, and jazz choreography with aplomb, reinforcing P.A.’s image as a place for the cream of the crop. Their upbeat movement stood in stark contrast to Freedom’s expertly detailed set, which established P.A. as a grungy, condemned building, on the brink of demolition. Particularly intriguing touches included an original school crest complete with Latin motto, as well as authentic-looking New York Subway signs flanking the stage. Allison Zigadlo’s graffiti contributed greatly to the urban, run-down vision of P.A. in the late ‘80s, as did Rachel Holcomb’s lighting design.
Conducted by Joel Galway, Freedom High School’s Jazz Band effortlessly carried Morgoshes’ melodies, adding strength to ensemble numbers such as “Dancin’ on the Sidewalk” and smoothly complementing more subdued pieces, like Serena and Nick’s duet “Let’s Play a Love Scene.” Occasionally instrumentalists overwhelmed the vocalists, but generally singers were audible. If anything, actors were over-amplified, but the sound crew worked admirably to ensure that a limited numbers of wireless microphones were shared among the large cast.
The evening concluded with heartbreak, hopefulness, and much applause. Despite minor imperfections, Freedom High School’s production of Fame the Musical offered a reminder that with “Hard Work,” everyone has a shot at making it big.