Fame v Hairspray in Dubai

Two of the world’s most beloved musicals land in the city this month, courtesy of Dubai Summer Surprises

John Payton
John Payton
Rachel Berry, aka Miss Sherman
Rachel Berry, aka Miss Sherman
Emma Gibson, aka Iris The Ballerina
Emma Gibson, aka Iris The Ballerina
Julian Chenery
Julian Chenery
Leanne Jones
Leanne Jones
Samuel James Moore, aka Corny Collins
(James Marsden in the newest movie)
Samuel James Moore, aka Corny Collins (James Marsden in the newest movie)
Janine Zack, aka Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah)
Janine Zack, aka Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah)
Fame: ‘I’m gonna live forever!’

The classic ’80s tale of a New York performing arts school has it all: it’s gritty, aspirational and plain infectious. This month, more than 100 performers (some of them professionals from London, and many of them amateurs from Dubai who conquered open auditions a few months ago) will take the stage at the Madinat Jumeirah next Tuesday.

The director: John Payton
Credentials: John started in classical theatre and has directed Fame four times already, along with Blood Brothers, Annie, High School Musical and Women in Black, all of which came to the UAE.
The auditions: ‘In showbusiness we often talk about energy – some people have it and some people don’t. During the auditions we were looking for performers who just have this ‘cast me’ look. The skill is also very important. It’s called the triple threat: you have to find people who are good at all three things [singing, dancing and acting].’
What to expect:
‘We’ll have more than 100 people on stage, not just to fill it, but to create the atmosphere of a working school. A lot of the songs from the film aren’t actually in the stage show as they’re not really suitable to be sung on stage [about a third of the songs from the film are in the show], but this means that the musical will feel fresh to the audience. You can expect beautiful ballads, up-tempo numbers and gospel songs.’
Favourite Fame song:
You can’t discount the theme tune because it’s so catchy, but in the musical there’s a fantastic song called ‘In LA’. Carmen sings it (the equivalent of Coco in the film) after she decides to leave the school to pursue a career in LA, but falls on hard times and wishes she could turn back time.’
Favourite Fame adaptation:
‘This is controversial, but I love the original movie – it was a big influence on me.
Why Fame over Hairspray?
‘Listen, Hairspray is great fun, but Fame stuck in my mind a lot longer after I first saw it. It has the showbiz and fun side, but it’s a much more serious and dramatic show.’

The Olivier Award-winning actress: Rachel Berry, aka Miss Sherman
Rachel won an ensemble cast Olivier Award (the first time that’s ever happened) for her role in Jerry Springer The Opera – a reworking of the chat show set to music. She played Andrea, a guest who discovers that her partner likes to wear nappies.
‘Miss Sherman is an English teacher at the high school – she has to struggle a bit because the students are interested in performing, not academics. She does come across as a bit hard, but then she softens during the lovely song ‘These Are My Children’.
Favourite Fame song:
‘The main song – I’m an ’80s child, and that song just makes me want to get up and dance.’
Favourite Fame adaptation:
‘The stage show. I love the original film, because I grew up with it, but when I first saw the musical in London I actually got quite emotional: there’s something special about the performers being right there in front of you.’

The local talent: Emma Gibson, aka Iris The Ballerina
In Dubai:
Three years
‘I was quite nervous. We had to dance, sing and act, but it was exciting to meet other people who were interested in performing.’
‘Iris is a ballerina and acts all snobby to the other students, but then she falls in love with another dancer and people realise she’s actually not that rich or different.’
Favourite Fame song:
‘It has to be the main Fame tune.’
Favourite adaptation:
‘The old movie – it’s the original and you can’t beat those legwarmers.’

Fame is at the First Group Theatre, Madinat Jumeirah, July 13-17 (www.timeouttickets.com)

Fame: the evolution

The original movie (1980)
Highlight: The lunch scene where they dance on the canteen tables, plus the theme song. Check out the music video – what outfits! (YouTube search terms: Irene Cara, Fame).
Lowlight: Nothing.

The six-season TV series (1982)
Highlight: It was almost as good as the film.
Lowlight: None of the cast have done anything since.

The musical (born in Miami in 1988, on stage in London’s West End since 1995)
Highlight: The music.
Lowlight: The dialogue.

The LA TV spin-off (1997-1998)
Highlight: Nothing.
Lowlight: Everything.

The movie remake (2009)
Highlight: Made the story contemporary.
Lowlight: No heart, too choreographed and the theme song was slaughtered via rap.

Hairspray: ‘You can’t stop the beat!’

Everyone’s favourite underdog story, Hairspray follows a loveable rotund brunette who shows those skinny blondes what she’s made of. Local auditions have gathered 80 or so of Dubai’s best performers to star in the production, alongside professionals from the original West End show. They’ll all be put through their paces during the two-week rehearsals, which are also an acting workshop – a concept that’s common in places like the UK, and is thankfully now taking off in the UAE. See the results at Ductac next week.

The director: Julian Chenery
Credentials: Creator, producer and director of Shakespeare 4 Kidz, and a pantomime aficionado.
The Dubai auditions: ‘There’s a great deal of talent in Dubai. We were looking for the triple threat, but that doesn’t always happen – a great dancer isn’t always a great singer. About 300 people came along and we chose 80 people who were the best all-round, then chose people who had one particular talent. But in this summer’s academy [aka the rehearsals] people will learn a lot about all three disciplines – it’s all about practice. Even Roger Federer has tennis lessons.’
What to expect: ‘This show is fantastic fun – it’s even better than Grease. There’ll be so much energy on stage – the London actors such as Leanne Jones will be energised by working with the young performers.’
Favourite Hairspray song: ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’, although I also love ‘You’re Timeless To Me’, sung by Wilbur and Edna (aka John Travolta’s character). It’s a showstopper – people will be rolling in the aisles.’
Favourite adaptation: ‘I’m a theatre man, so I love the stage show.’
Why Hairspray over Fame? ‘Both Hairspray and Fame are feelgood and aspirational – go to see both!’

The Olivier Award-winning actress: Leanne Jones
Credentials: Leanne was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award 2008 for Best Actress in a Musical for her West End debut as Hairspray’s Tracy Turnblad.
Character: ‘I love playing Tracy; she’s not afraid of anything and she never hears the negative things. I wish I could be more like her in real life.’
Favourite Hairspray song: ‘Without Love’, because it’s so funky and happy!’
Favourite adaptation: ‘The Broadway musical adaptation of the original John Walters movie. They kept so many of his dark, tongue in cheek traits, but also developed the fun, family aspect.’

The local talent: Samuel James Moore, aka Corny Collins (James Marsden in the newest movie)
Age: 15
In Dubai: 10 years
Character: ‘I jumped for glee when I got the part because the character is very fun to play. He’s cheesy and lively, and he has a solo – I’ve never had the chance to sing a solo before.’
Opportunity: ‘Getting to work with professionals is amazing because I can show them that I’m talented. Before, Dubai had nothing – I couldn’t even find dancing and acting classes – but now there’s a lot on.’

The local talent: Janine Zack, aka Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah)
Character: ‘It’s a fantastic role – she’s a black activist and she has two powerful songs.’
Favourite Hairspray song: ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, by Miss Maybelle (Queen Latifah in the latest film).
Favourite adaptation: ‘I love the latest film because the roles were cast well and the production was extremely polished.’

Hairspray is at Centrepoint Theatre, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, July 13-17 (www.timeouttickets.com)

Hairspray: the evolution

The original movie (1988)
Highlight: Debbie Harry’s hair.
Lowlight: Sonny without his Cher.

The musical (2002-2009 on Broadway, from 2007 on London’s West End)
Highlight: Just when we thought Hairspray couldn’t be more camp, it goes to Broadway.
Lowlight: West End pretty boy Michael Ball sporting a 46EEE.

The movie remake (2007)
Highlight: Zac Efron’s dulcet tones.
Lowlight: John Travolta in drag.

The reality show (Hairspray: The School Musical, UK 2008)
Highlight: Lots of tears.
Lowlight: You couldn’t pay us to sit through a school production, let alone expect us to watch behind the scenes.

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