Musical Theatre

Fame – The Musical. Book by Jose Fernandez Music by Steve Margoshes. Lyrics by Jacques Levy. Title song by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford. Based on Fame, with conception by David De Silva. Directed by Jarrad West. Choreography by Michelle Heine. Musical direction by Katrina Tang. SUPA Productions. Suitable for ages 16+ – sex and drug references. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. May 11 to 26.

Maddy Betts, left and Pip Carroll in Supa's Fame.

Photo: Janelle McMenamin.

By Ron Cerabona

Long before High School Musical and Glee and Rise, there was Fame. The franchise began as a 1980 film that spawned a 1982 TV series and a 1988 stage musical, all set in the fictional New York City High School of the Performing Arts.

Heidi Birkby, left and Jack Tinga in Supa's Fame.

Photo: Janelle McMenamin.


Jarrad West, who is directing Fame – the Musical for SUPA Productions, says. "It's such an exuberant musical – it's all about young kids stepping out into the world."

Before they can do that, though, they have four years of high school to complete, demons and temptations to face, relationships to form, and talents to develop. But while they might be great at singing, dancing, acting or playing music there's no guarantee that they will be successful even if they manage to graduate – they still have to face the stark reality of a professional life in the performing arts where even great talents can go unrewarded.

"It's an unusual story," West says. "about what do you do – is there life after high school?"

He says when he was first approached about directing the show he said he wanted to cast it with "kids who were believably the right age as opposed to the 90210 kind – 35-year-olds playing teenagers".

And, he says, "We've got a lovely cast of kids … Some of them are in their first lead role, some have been around a little bit."

He thinks there are some very promising young performers in this Fame who represent the new generation of talent coming up in Canberra.

"They're only going to get better as the years go by – they're still good now, but they'll improve."

Jack Tinga, 20, plays African-American dance major Tyrone Jackson, whose ongoing struggle with dyslexia means education is a challenge for him and ultimatelyt puts his graduation at risk. While not dyslexic, Tinga can relate to some aspects of his character.

Tinga was born in Mozambique and says he was a quiet, shy child until he played the villain in a school production of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves ("the teachers were shocked"). It sparked a love of theatre that continued when his family moved to Canberra and, like Tyrone, he became much more outgoing.

He says doing theatre he felt he became a bit typecast because of his colour in "black" roles such as Seaweed in Hairspray but still enjoyed performing. He was last seen on stage in Everyman's The History Boys and is currently studying education at the University of Canberra.

On the subject of typecasting, Pip Carroll, 19, plays musical prodigy Schlomo Metzenbaum, "the third Jew I've ever played, after Evan Goldman in 13 and Arty Kurnitz in Lost in Yonkers".. (Carroll is not himself Jewish).

While Carroll plays "a bit of piano and a bit of guitar", Schlomo, he says, "plays everything" and is a genius to boot.

"I don't think I'm a genius."

But, Carroll, a second-year creative writing student at the University of Canberra who's been acting for the past decade in musicals and plays, says of Schlomo, "He's an optimist, just like me."

Schlomo has a soft spot for people who need saving and tries to help his classmate, Hspanic dancer Carmen Diaz, played by Maddy Betts, who's 17 and in year 12 at Burgmann College.

Betts says, "Her main goal in life is to be famous."

Carmen hides her insecurities behind a mask of confidence and sass. She asks to join Schlomo's band and Schlomo, who likes her, lets her, but she is manipulating him, Betts says.

She quits school before graduating, lured by the promise of fame and fortune in show business – but will this turn out to be the right decision?

Betts, who began singing and music lessons before she began acting with Canberra Youth Theatre in Year 9, says she can relate to Carmen in some respects including the veneer of confidence, which boosts herself and those around her – "Fake it till you make it," as she says.

"I have my own insecurities like anyone else…I want to be liked, I want to make it in music theatre."

Her reactions to Carmen range from admiration to feeling "She's a bit of a bitch" but that's what makes the character a great challenge to play.

"I find her so interesting, she's got so many different levels."

Another former CYT participant, Patrick Galen-Mules, 19, plays another Hispanic character, Joe Vegas, an acting student he describes as having "a gigantic ego.

"He's a jokester, a ladies' man and very self-assured. He goes after Carmen."

Joe, he says, is the kind of guy who's always "on", perhaps excessively so.

"He's very over the top and fun."

One of his songs, Can't Keep It Down, is, in Galen-Mules' words, "a song about boners".

Galen-Mules says he wasn't like that when he was at school.

"I was one of those awkward in-between dudes – I wasn't a nerd or a freak, but I wasn't cool. I could talk to people of all circles."

His first show was a Canberra Gang Show at the age of 12 where he sang My Girl solo – "It wasn't good" – but since then he's done everything from Macbeth (he played Malcolm) to, most recently, Jesus Christ Superstar.(he played Peter).

And there are plenty of others, including ANU music student Sophie Edwards and American international student Ryan Kitchens, who's studying international relations at ANU, as acting students Serena Katz and Nick Piazza, respectively. Edwards, 19, did musicals at St Clare's College and was in a Philo production of Fiddler on the Roof as Schprintze, the second youngest sister.

She says Serena has a huge crush on Nick but he – an actor since childhood and fairly career-minded – takes a while to reciprocate her feelings.

Kitchens, 19, says he was "a sporty kid" who was a gymnast from the ages of five to 11 before he moved into acting.

"My first show ever was Fame Jr – I played Goody, one of three people in Schlomo's band when I was in year 7."

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Ron Cerabona

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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