Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Footlights Rep Jr.’s first show of 2017 is “Fame Jr.” “Fame” began as an Academy Award winning movie in 1980. Then it became an Emmy Award winning TV series and finally, an international musical production. The show follows a group of gifted students through four grueling, exhilarating years at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts on West 46th Street. The class of ’84 was the last class to graduate from that landmark building before moving to Lincoln Center as LaGuardia High School. The show is a bittersweet but ultimately inspiring story of a diverse group of students and it explores the issues that confront many young people today: issues of prejudice, identity, self worth, literacy, sexuality, and perseverance. Directors Neil Jeronimo and Tricia Rodrigues take their 40 member cast on an exuberant journey that captivates the audience from the opening “Prayer to get in P.A.” and “Hard Work” about whether singing, dancing or acting is really the hardest course in school, to the closing poignant number “Bring on Tomorrow” at the graduation.
Neil and Tricia block the show wonderfully on their two story set and obtain stunning performances from their young cast. Music director Kasey Jeronimo obtains topnotch vocals from them while Barry Pereira dance’s include ballet, modern and jazz. The teachers in the show are played by Eliza Sirpenski as Miss Sherman who is the English teacher and is very strict with her students. She and Miss Bell sing “The Teacher’s Argument” about a student who can’t read but dances perfectly. The dance teacher, Miss Bell is well played by Julia Ahaesy. The other two teachers are Emma Guillotte as Miss Myers, the acting teacher who wants the students to show their inner beings to each other and to grow in their roles and Steph Baxter as Miss Sheinkopf, the strict music teacher who makes them practice Mozart.
The acting students, Nick, Serena and Jose are played by Nick Lannigan, Jillian Levesque and Derek Rivera. Nick plays Nick who has appeared in commercials as a child but really wants to learn about acting. He displays his strong tenor voice in “I Want to Make Magic.” And he finally gets to play Romeo to become a serious actor. Jillian plays the girl who has a crush on Nick. She grows from nerdy girl into a swan at the end of the show. Jillian displays her pretty soprano voice in “Let’s Play a Love Scene”, a pretty ballad. Derek plays the cocky, Jose who adopts Joe Vegas as his persona. He handles a lot of comic moments in the show.
The dancing students, Carmen, Tyrone, Iris and Mabel are very well played. Bella Manchester is fabulous as Carmen, a girl who will do anything to make it in show business. She sings the title number “Fame” and brings down the house with it. She plays this over confident character to the hilt. She also shines in “There She Goes”, another big dance number. Derek Alexander as Jack, is the illiterate student who has dyslexia and also has a chip on his shoulder. He falls in love with Iris, the prima ballerina and argues constantly with Miss Sherman. He does a terrific job. Desiree Levesque as Iris, displays her dancing prowess in this role in the ballet segment and her acting ability when she tells Tyrone that he must learn how to read. Macayla Goulet is dynamite as Mabel as she sings “Mabel’s Prayer”, a gospel number. She is very comic as she starts out dancing and switches to acting.
The three musicians, Scholmo, Grace and Goodman also do a wonderful job in their roles. Nate LeBoeuf as Scholmo, the shy pianist who falls in love with Carmen after they write the rousing anthem “Bring on Tomorrow.” A dramatic moment occurs when Carmen leaves him and school to pursue her dreams with a producer. The finale of their song packs a punch when Scholmo explains that it is dedicated to her. Erika Baxter does a great job as the tomboy drummer and Ed Plante is a hoot as the trumpet player. Kudos to the whole cast and crew for doing a marvelous job with show. So for an energetic evening of musical entertainment, be sure to catch “Fame Jr.” by Footlights Rep’s Junior Division at the beautiful Morton Middle School. Tell them Tony sent you.
FAME JR. (27 & 28 January)
Footlights Rep Jr., Morton Middle School, 1135 North Main St, Fall River, MA
1(774)644-4539 or www.footlightsrep.net