Next week, the Assembly Hall welcomes the hugely successful stage show Fame the Musical. Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, it’s based on the iconic pop culture 1980 film that went on to become a long-running TV series.
The musical, which has been touring for the past three decades, takes up the story of a group of students at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts, following the trials and tribulations they all experience as they strive for success in both their professional and personal lives.
The cast for the musical’s 30th anniversary tour includes Keith Jack, star of Any Dream Will Do and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat; singer-turned-actress Mica Paris, who has also trodden the boards in Love Me Tender, Chicago and Mama, I Want To Sing; and Hollyoaks’ actress Jorgie Porter, who should already know a dance number or two having also been a contestant on ITV’s Dancing On Ice.
Fame’s key themes of dealing with prejudice, discovering self-identity, and examining the price some people will pay to achieve ultimate success, have proved to be perennially popular since the stage show opened on Broadway in 1988.
Since then it has had an impressive seven West End runs, toured all over the globe and is one of the world’s best-loved musicals.
But such impressive credentials haven’t phased Jorgie Porter, who has never done a stage role until now. In fact she is clearly loving every second of her debut theatrical experience.
‘It’s a young girl’s life in the world of wanting to make it and be famous,’ she says, explaining the bones of her character, ballerina Iris Kelly. ‘It’s quite similar to what I went through!’ she laughs.
‘I spent three years in the Hammond Dance School in Chester dancing every day. You would be in the common room and there would be a trumpet going off, and drums, and everyone would be singing. So this is literally like when I was 16 years old. It’s really weird!’
Fame made an impact on Jorgie from an early age. She remembersgoing to her local church for dance lessons as a little girl, and Fame was one of the tracks that left an indelible mark on her.
‘Those lessons were where I found my love of dance,’ she recalls. ‘I would do the star jumps at the beginning of Fame! It gets your heart going because the music is just so incredible.’
After a long association with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Keith Jack, who stars as student Nick Piazza, also has the chance to stretch his wings a little, and he is relishing every moment.
He says: ‘It’s a completely different role for me, I don’t wear a loincloth, and I’m not topless, which is quite nice. People will come along and expect something of me and see something slightly different.
‘My character Nick is an actor who started off doing a TV commercial, but he wants to go away and train to become a ‘real actor’ to do Shakespeare, not just be seen as ‘that TV boy’.
‘He finds interest in a girl called Serena and falls in love with her as the show goes on. He realises there is more to life than just books and learning, and sees that he can let himself go a bit with her.
‘Fame shows every character’s individual story and how they have got through the three years at theatre school. It’s about how their characters have grown up, and how they link along the way.’
Mica Paris is cast as Miss Sherman, the inspirational English teacher. Her character’s story centres around her trying to help a boy named Tyrone – an exceptional dancer with huge potential.
‘She tells him to stop blagging his way through acting and dancing, and that he needs to have an education. It’s really well cast for me. I have got two kids and I am very good at telling them off!’
Although the musical is based on the original smash-hit film, this particular interpretation promises to be a little grittier than fans of the pop culture phenomenon might be used to.
‘It’s a little bit darker, and that’s what is quite nice about it,’ states Mica. ‘It’s gritty, but with heart and soul. It’s real and not just sweet.
‘And the kids in it are so organically fresh and wanting to be great at the beginning of their lives. That’s such a nice thing to see – and they are all so talented!
‘Then you’ve got the old timer, me, going in and doing some craziness.’
Not that Mica has a problem with being the older cast member. Quite the opposite in fact.
‘I love that I am always the oldest, I love being around young people, and they keep me so on point with stuff.
‘We can all get a little bit samey in our little bubbles. The kids break you out of that and keep you fresh. They stretch me – that’s why I like collaborating, and I learn so much, too.’
And of course you also get to hear Mica, a renowned soul artist, to sing.
‘One of my songs is These Are My Children, and that is a proper gospel song. I have reworked it a little bit and it sounds really powerful.
‘You’ve got to feel stuff, it has got to resonate somewhere. That’s what is exciting; that instant feeling you give the audience. I live for that.’
Despite celebrating 30 years in showbusiness herself this year, Mica admits she does experience the odd tinge of nerves but doesn’t allow fear to stop her.
‘You never stop being nervous because you always want to be good, and you want to touch people and make them like what you do.
‘We are all insecure artists at the end of the day, and we live for you guys liking us.’
‘There is so much depth in this production,’ adds Jorgie. ‘There are a lot of shocking things, and lots of subjects that are being touched on.
‘The cast is super, and I get goosebumps every time some of these kids sing. I feel so lucky to be a part of something that feels so great.’
Keith agrees: ‘It is such an iconic show. Audiences will be on their feet at the end having followed a massive journey.
‘They will really feel the heart of it, and obviously they will all be singing the show’s iconic number – Fame!’