Fame (The Next Generation) delightfully entertaining
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
The walls of the Philip Sherlock Centre for Creative Arts came alive with a proclamation for fame on Friday. It was the opening night of the Jamaica Junior Theatre 2011 production, Fame (The Next Generation), on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies.
The large cast of 50 (no error here) aspiring thespians danced and sang through a two-hour show that gave a peek into the lives of some students at an Atlanta-based College of the Performing Arts. And like the characters they portrayed, they too will be remembered for their roles in executing a fantastic Tony Wilson and Imana Hitchins choreography, beautiful singing guided by musical director Doug Bennett and clearly spoken lines. But first the story:
With a simple and easy to follow storyline, the John Webster-scripted work of art is divided into two coexisting subplots. There is the plot centred on the love lives of some of the students: Giovanni and Alecia; Pierre, Singer and Christie; and the story of Singer's drug addiction.
The melodrama began with an audition for the College's upcoming end-of-year show. Most students auditioned with songs from the movie 'Grease'. However, all the students are not dancers and in one of two entertaining scenes in the first act, a very stereotyped effeminate dance instructor, along with his dance majors, showed the non-dancers a routine, their response with the song I Hope I Get It was comical.
Act one's other entertaining scene came in the form of a group of orphans who were invited by the vice-principal, Mrs Gloria Stevens, to perform in the end-of-year show. Unimpressed by the status of the college, seniors who were told to work with the little ones, showed what life is like at home in a rather, let's say, mild risqué adaptation of the popular children's song Mary Had a Little Lamb.
Next it was act two, where the story continues two weeks after the audition. Rehearsals are being carried out in 'various rooms' as noted in the playbill - but forget that there was no change in the very creative Kaiel Yytle-designed set depicting the school's auditorium - act two, scene two in the vice-principal's office being the difference. It was the cast's performance in this act that will eventually bring them the fame that they sought.
Stephanie Hazle, who played the talented but troubled Singer deMercado, gave a better account of the character. Matthew McKenzie's Giovanni accent became less irritating also. However, his duo performance of the song Let's Play a Love Scene, with Krystal Bowers as Alecia Turner, placed him on the road to fame. David Andrew Reid as Pierre D'amico and Kara Wilson as Christie Morales were also marvellous. Their talent shone through their singing and dancing.
Also worthy of mention are Melanie Canagaratnam and Suzzanne Cousins. Cousins was the precocious vice-principal's daughter. With a clear diction and a straight face, she was convincing in deceiving the very strict and mean dance instructor Zack, played by Damian Shaw. Canagaratnam, as Dolores - one of the orphans - sang Castle on a Cloud with the voice of a lark
But alas, it was a different story for director Peter Haley. Except for act two, scene two in the vice-principal's office, all his blockings of the small groups were akin to a speech choir presentation. Too often the young actors were, it seemed, instructed to speak directly to the audience while addressing each other. His concentration on the down stage centre was also disheartening. He also needed to find a way to get his young talents to speak their lines rather than sound as if they were reading, without script. However, his use of levels and general placement of the large cast is commendable.
Generally, Tony Wilson's choreography was brilliant, but the chorus line dance used for the closing titled song, Fame, was fantastic. The choreography was supported by the fabulously designed costumes.
In essence, Fame (The Next Generation) is worth seeing. Funds from the gate receipts also go towards charity.