David De Silva, or “Father Fame” as he is named in the director’s notes of this recent Australian production, writes a short blurb for the inside programme:

“To know oneself is a life ling process. It helps us along the way if we recognise that Life is Theatre. There are many sides to the “character” we play in it. We are always making our entrances and exits. Through the study and the appreciation of the Arts, we become better able to project our true selves, discover our uniqueness, design our space and channel our spirit. Thus, giving more meaning to our lives.”

Yes. I know what you are thinking. Or perhaps you are thinking, how very similar to the sentiments of Shakespeare via the melancholy mouth of Jacques from As You Like It, (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166).

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Nice to note here, that As You Like It was written by Shakespeare as a crowd pleaser, though the critical response was not so forth coming… for those like GB Shaw, it was not how he liked it.Not how he liked it at all. Perhaps that was his taste? Perhaps Shaw had had a tough time at the office that day and wasn’t up to a pastoral cross-dressing rom-com musical? As you Like it was a culmination of what the audiences liked/supported at the time. As you like it was Elizabethan pop culture mash-up. Unlike As You Like it, FAME has very little cross dressing (blink and you miss my reference in “Can’t Keep it Down”), and is set in the wilds of New York – not quite the pastoral setting. But the audience appeal to FAME is undeniable.

The 1980 film “FAME” was the first of a series of dance films which defined a generation , followed by Flashdance (1983) and Footloose (1984) – all stories of battlers, who struggle against the odds, to make a difference. They are aspirational films, whose feel good “You can achieve your dreams”/ “love conquers all” / “hard work will be rewarded” messages have inspired a generation to pursue that which makes them happy: and in these examples, it’s dance.

Fast forward thirty years and flip the globe and we are in a post 911, Australia, where dominant popular culture comprises of a largely a reconstituted version of American popular culture in the form of TV or music, fashion, design, and what I consider commercialised mainstream subculture (gangster rap, anyone?). Suddenly, reality TV – Australian versions of the American originals – are a large chunk of Australia’s entertainment. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a world where Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” have been reduced to 15 seconds of Fame, and is now flashed instantaneously and internationally via YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. Suddenly it is possible to be a global celebrity for doing a “bum dance” care of Sara-Marie Fedele or being orally fixated whilst on camera eg Kim Kardashian or for being an inconsiderate neighbour Corey Delaney… Fame has a different reality now. To be famous, isn’t necessarily a good thing… Pursuing Fame was once about achieving financial stability/success, an American dream wrapped up in fantasies of being catapulted from a dirty ditch into the stratosphere of power, influence and glamour: work hard and you’ll succeed. That is still the case: but not in all circumstances. Now that stratosphere seems to contain not only the triumvirate of power, influence and glamour but also the side effects of drug addiction, broken relationships, gaol time and weight fluctuations. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel pop culture is. Fame is fickle. The entertainment industry runs hot and bright: and very cold, as tastes slip and slide. Fame is linked to fashion- and fashion is unrelenting and constantly evolving.

So in this context we find the recent stars of So you Think You Can Dance, living their life on stage (according to Shakespeare of De Silva, take your pick) in a mash-up 1980s/2000s pop references. Though our hearts are warmed by the nostalgia of seeing toned legs punctuated by leg warmers, interval music which includes the magic of Jefferson Starship, we are also immersed in a throbbing sound system which drives the dancers as they “crump” their way into formation. In our contemporary context this production of FAME is a meeting of the worlds – the naive world of the 80s where the belief that “hard work will be rewarded,” meets the cynicism of 2010s you don’t have to be talented or hardworking to be famous. Mabel’s Prayer is infused with contemporary and local references in the lyrics to diet programmes, whilst the style of the music and singing is, in itself closer to contemporary R&B. This is a reinvention of the classic story – like that of a contemporary production of a Shakespearean text – the material has been modified, the style modified to fit the context of the audience. What it is saying is pretty loud and clear : This ain’t no time capsule, yo! This production is a postmodern salute to elements of the 80s which this story was born and which has eveolved over 30 years and many, many countries. Strangely though, the graduating year is “1984” though many of the references remain updated. Much of the music has been restyled, re-vamped in a contemporary musical style – it seems FAME will live forever, as it continues to evolve with fashion and it’s international identity, having played in places from Japan, Spain, Germany, Italy- and in multiple languages across the world. I do wonder how much of this phenomenon are reproduced in the American vernacular and what a Japanese version would look/sound like. Infact, I wonder if there could be an Australian sounding FAME- or is there something unique to the voice, volume and rhythm to American language (or is it unique to our sense of America’s cultural imperialism?) that keeps the Australian production sounding very off-shore?

The cast is highly energetic, and embrace the story and the world of “PA” with gusto and fervour, which is best demonstrated in the Argentine Tango which opens ACT 2. The ensemble are strong and passionate and suitable “large” under the direction of Kelley Abbey, who certainly knows how to fill a stage. The story ticks along nicely with an experienced support adult cast which includes Lillias White (Miss Sherman), Andrew McFarlane (Mr Myers), and Brian Wenzel (Mr Sheinkopf). Particular moments of extraordinary performance include Mabel Washington’s (Josie Lane) hearty showstopper Mabel’s Prayer, and a dance sequence lead by the very dynamic and impressive Timomatic as Tyrone Jackson. FAME certainly delivers a dynamic punch to the senses, it is an epic and grand visual/aural onslaught and encourages sleepy Sydney audiences to get out of their seats, dance in the aisle. This isn’t a quaint, nostalgic production, this is full force, full steam ahead: sexy, loud and in yer face! It feels like a dance party- a vibrant celebration of youth (the potential of youth), fitness, vigour and dance- it’s pure utter, unapologetic spectacle.

Musicals have always been a popular entertainment, primarily because of the reasurring truths they adhere to: “love conquers all,” “you can make it it if you try,” “everything’s going to be alright,” “you will find a place to belong”- and all these are found in FAME. It is a bright, sassy production which is designed to reassure, inspire and to encourage us to have faith in putting in effort in all things: and especially when it comes to love and work.

And why not? That is a worthy message. Theatre should encourage transformation- it should be pleasurable. It should be engaging and fascinating- and FAME is on a grand scale all those things. It is like fairy floss covered in coloured christmas lights: it attracts and delights. Despite my cultural scepticism and my particular taste, I know for certain that punters willing to pay $110 a ticket will certainly love the power and the passion… especially if you are a fan of “So you think you can Dance,” and you are looking for a grand-scale spectacle to dazzle and delight. It’s fun. Those keen to hear the song will love the finale with all the trimmings and exactly what everyone is waiting for – THAT SONG! (With bonus drum and bass thudding under our seats.)

If you are into musicals- where what you see and hear is what you get: a big production, a big budget, all the dialogue people say exactly what they mean, ask for what they want and are utterly obvious: this production is for you. It will be exactly, as you like it.