Expressive Audio family member Will is currently musical director for Warwick University's production of Fame: The Musical, and as such we thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the musical, and to learn more about it from the unique director's point of view - after all, no one is more familiar with a performance or production than the director/conductor!
Everyone will have heard of Fame in some capacity; after 6 seasons of a very successful television show, a film, an award-winning title song and subsequently a musical, it would be hard to escape it. However, where the musical really excels (under the watchful eye of Steve Margoshes) is bringing all the strands of these Fame elements of yesteryear and amalgamating them into what I consider a brilliant musical.
The concept is simple: a group of talented students getting into a performing arts school and focusing on specialising their skills, while dealing with their own drama along the way. Due to this setting, it therefore feels completely natural to have a character or group burst into song as if they were practicing or performing in a class. The music seamlessly flows from scene to sonority, with each character having a solo song along the course of the story progressing the audience’s understanding of who they are and what they want. In this fashion, it makes for a good way of building and demonstrating the development of each cast member, while these heartfelt verses can lead to sympathising strongly with certain characters, adding to the emotional impact of each scene.
The opening number chooses to include the ambient traffic sounds of the busy city, setting the scene for the audience. However, not so apparent is that many of the motifs introduced in this first song are built upon and featured a lot throughout the musical, and as such these opening melodies set the scene for what is to come. As the characters develop, so do the songs, building upon what they were first presented as, just like the brand new applicants to the school. Something Steve Margoshes does masterfully is the intertwining of gospel-sounding choir harmonies with “modern” instrumentation, guitar-riffs and really fascinating instrumental solos not so commonly heard in other musicals of its time.
The simple yet effective array of instruments allows the SATB (sometimes with Mezzo-Soprano) vocal ensemble to shine. This is readily apparent in numbers like “Hard Work”, the latter half of the opening number, which then becomes the staple feature of the musical, closing off Act 1 and featuring heavily as an underscore and in the Curtain Calls. The time signature skips in this song paired with the syncopated rhythms allow for a pleasant and intriguing (and unconventional) melody that will get the audience tapping their feet along with it. However, what is great about the layout and structure of these numbers is the highly under-utilised at that time method of alternating between the melody-dominated homophonic texture to briefly monophonic as characters introduce themselves or speak lines, really immersing the song in the school setting, before certain polyrhythmic instrumental-only sections allow for the choreographer to develop some powerful dancing. As such, the sudden reprise of a unison recall of past material at the end of the number really is a powerful moment built up from all the previous elements, everyone singing the lyrics “I’m Alive” with ad lib solos on top and jazzy saxophone and guitar making for an impactful opening number leaving the audience feeling blown away.
This couldn’t be a Fame article without discussing the titular song, and Steve Margoshes does not disappoint with his arrangement integrating seamlessly into the culture and character of the main actress Carmen. This character, full of emotion, passion for singing and acting, is perfect for this brilliant song, envisioning her dreams of living forever. However, differing from the motion picture, is the inclusion of traditional Spanish rhythms, words and instrumentation, making it its own independent standalone number instead of what could seem like pulling the successful feature from past Fame releases and hoping it would work. This song really provides insight into the character and becomes a staple piece of this musical, which has been pulled off incredibly well, and when it appears in its full form in the Curtain Calls / ending of Act 2, it is sure to end the musical on a incredible climax (especially after you see how Carmen’s story has changed over the course of the plot).
For me, this musical is one of the best out there. One could think that it got a fast-forward step into the musical world due to its siblings having had such prior success, but it stands alone as a brilliant entry, even having never seen anything else Fame-related. This is a testament to David De Silva and Steve Margoshes’ skill in yet again making a thrilling and engaging story with music that never bores nor fails to excite. With only 13 unique songs, and the other numbers being inventive and imaginative reprises and reworks of subjects presented to the audience previously, it provides the pleasure of feeling familiar with certain tracks having heard them once not long before, making their reprise even more impactful (especially when intertwined so effectively with the storyline’s reason for their reprise). As such, I can definitively say this musical is worth a watch (or a listen to), and I’m exceedingly fortunate to know it in such depth and to have had the opportunity to direct it.
Will will be conducting his production of Fame: The Musical at Warwick Arts Centre from the 16th-18th February 2023, and tickets are available from their website.