Peggy Sue Dunigan
Review

FAME at Sunset Playhouse

By - Jul 31st, 2009 02:21 pm
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In appreciation of the arts and those youths who strive to succeed in performance careers, the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove ends its season staging David De Silva’s Fame: The Musical. The new adaptation, like the original film and TV series, is set in the 1980s at the New York High School for the Performing Arts. The script and score relate to those four years of educational and emotional learning with an entertaining style.

FAMEPressPhotoPrint4This requires a cast of 18 youths, and it is capably filled by gifted young people from throughout the Milwaukee area. While many company members are making Sunset Playhouse debuts, their collective resumes include previous performances at First Stage Children’s Theater, the Florentine Opera, The Rep, The Skylight, and the Radio City Rockettes–along with numerous Milwaukee secondary school productions. It provides a high degree of professionalism that fills the whole cast with energy.

It also resonates with the audience, often in laughter, as musical numbers such as “Can’t Keep It Down”, “Tyrone’s Rap”, “Dancing on the Sidewalk” and the titular song “Fame” each renews an energy in the theatre. There are also poignant melodies that remind everyone of fame’s elusive qualities which require dedication in “I Want to Make Magic”, “Think of Meryl Streep”, and “Bring on Tomorrow”. A delightfully comic “Mabel’s Prayer” recalls gospel as it relates the dancer’s struggle to overcome a larger than average body frame–still a delicate issue even in 2009.

Under Mark Salentine’s direction, these young stars always emerge on J. Michael Desper’s three-tiered set to capture the high school atmosphere. It amply allows for Melissa I. Bloch-Meier’s well-staged choreography and Donna and Jay Kummer’s skillful musical accompaniment. Youth Symphony Concertmaster Nicholas Dolan plays the role of Lee Kwang Suk in several memorable moments stroking his violin.

FAMEPressPhotoPrint5Throughout these youthful years that remind us of first loves, Jeanette Minson (Serena Katz) and Cameron Meilicke (Nick Piazza) honor this humbling emotion with ease. Ashley Levells (Mabel Washington) lends a bold voice in several upbeat songs. Returning to Milwaukee theater after an noted absence, Anna Justine Creed here plays Carmen Diaz. She is smoking with an innocent sensuality until her character’s dreams disappear in Los Angeles, adding ably to a diverse cast who showcase these tumultuous teenage years with aplomb.

The two plus hour production is a pleasurable evening, captivating the audience by acknowledging the universal pains of adolescence. It’s made more agonizing knowing only a percentage of these performing arts students will successfully achieve any goal aspirations, even with tortuous hard work and willpower. One only need look at the future plans of the current cast in the program notes to sense these dreams.

An overriding theme showcased at the Sunset Playhouse in FAME reveals that the performing arts, together with all the arts, “can make a difference in the world…for tomorrow.” While many artists “struggle and starve for their work and craft,” new audiences will continually crave and applaud that genuine performance magic when it appears.

Sunset Playhouse presents Fame: The Musical now on weekends until August 9. The August 2nd, 7:00 p.m. performance will benefit the Elm Grove Memorial Day crash victims. For tickets, call 262.782.4430 or visit the Sunset website here. You can find ticket information on many stage venues at Footlights Milwaukee.

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