Thursday, April 20, 2000

Even 15 minutes of 'Fame' is enough

BY Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the beginning, Fame was a movie. Then it was a TV series. Now it's a stage show that's a lot like a TV series.

        Wrapping up the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series 1999-2000 season at the Aronoff Center, Fame is a musical for couch potatoes. It's episodic in nature, peopled by easy stereotypes and packed with music that it would be kind to call “forgettable.”

        There's also a laundry list of personal crises that are supposed to make the folks on stage seem real and vulnerable. And there's a lot of preaching. It's all presented like TV episodes, too, moving dutifully from acting to dance to music to acting to dance to music. No messy overlapping.

        There are no commercials, just an intermission as the School of Performing Arts class of '84 work their way (with lots of drama but no surprises) from freshman year to graduation in a little more than 21/2 hours.

        There's the studly African-American dancer with a giant chip on his shoulder and dyslexia. There's the lovable, dowdy would-be actress who's smitten with the school's serious actor who has to be gay or why doesn't he date? (She wears saddle shoes and below-the-knees plaid skirts — in the '80s! Where does she find these clothes?)

        There's the violinist/would-be composer struggling against his father's genius. There's more comic relief from a dancer who struggles with her weight. (Happily, she can belt a gospel number better than she can dance. No problem with switching majors.)

        There's the gorgeous girl who wants too much too soon and leads the company in the title song, the only catchy number among 18. You know what happens when people drop out of school at the urging of a Hollywood agent: They become pill-popping, cocaine-addicted strippers who die.

        Boy, was her acting teacher right when he told her dropping out would be “the worst mistake of your life.” He really says that. Everybody talks in cliches, just like bad TV. But bad TV is free; orchestra seats for Fame are $50.

        Oh, and there are the firm spinster African-American English teacher and artistic white dancing teacher who argue predictably over the fate of the dyslexic dancer. Study! Dance! Study! Dance! Then the English teacher delivers a second act soliloquy, gets big applause and sees the light.

        The cast has a ton of energy that they have to waste on those bad songs and uninspired choreography. (It's the second act — how about a black light number?!)

        Most ensemble members don't look like high school students. I won't go through a list of names. You've never heard of them and probably never will. Best are Billy Blanks Jr. as dancer Tyrone, Amy Ehrlich as a drummer babe and Carl Tramon, looking at home on stage as violinist Metzenbaum.

        For the most part, the company can't hold a candle to the best kids who come out of University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.

        For everybody who has a great time at Fame, I respectfully suggest you give the real thing a try. You can follow a class through four years of performance and watch them blossom. Treat yourself to CCM (for less than half the price of a Broadway Series show).

        Start with Hot Summer Nights opener A Chorus Line in July. (Details can be found on Page 31 of your Fame program.)

        Fame, Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall, through April 30. 241-7469.


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