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Queens teens light up Theatre in the Park

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Saturday night’s downpour did little to dampen the spirits of the talented local youngsters appearing in the Theatre Learning Center’s student showcase, “Fame-Us: A Night of 30 Stars,” at the beautiful 464-seat Queens Theatre in the Park.

An inspired choice to open the show, Stephen Sondheim’s “Our Time,” an anthem to youthful hopes and dreams from “Merrily We Roll Along,” was sung with great feeling by a lead singer and a small chorus. Some of the lyrics, especially, “We’re the movers and we’re the shapers, we’re the names in tomorrow’s papers,” must surely have resonated not only with the performers, but with their proud friends and family members in the audience.

Billed as a blend of Broadway songs and scenes with original material, the first act consisted of a pastiche of vignettes about the trials and tribulations of young actors as they try to make it in show business, highlighted by the lovely “Runaway” monologue in the “On The Road” scene, and the show-stopping ensemble number from “A Chorus Line,” “I Hope I Get It,” where the youthful exuberance of the cast members finally won out over the butterflies.

The decision to humanize “Fame,” a plot device for which an actor in a glowing white costume, complete with pink wig, appeared in several scenes, was an unfortunate one. Lip synching songs being sung by other actors, waving a wand, and wandering aimlessly about the stage, he inadvertently upstaged the performances of the other actors. This staging error should have been avoided.

The “On the Coasts” scenes boasted good acting and a particularly moving rendition of Kander and Ebb’s “Maybe This Time.” Two dramatic pieces near the end of Act I, “The Day They Shot John Lennon,” and “Infamy,” while well played, were incongruous with the rest of the pieces in the show.

Following an Entr’Acte featuring lively improvisations by alumni of the program, the second act, by way of celebrity impersonations, was a tribute to theatre, film, television, and pop music legends, and was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Standouts here included an excellent Marlon Brando, a tour de force Jean Stapleton, a Jane Curtin-Gilda Radner Weekend Update, a smashing George Burns, and a very funny Sonny and Cher.

Performed in a rented venue for an audience made up of the performers’ friends and family members, and produced and directed by Theatre Learning Center Director Maxine Fields and staff members Elaine Lamont and Paul L. Johnson, the production was similar in structure to the annual dance recitals given by commercial dance schools.

While the staccato-like scenes in this production mimic the training techniques employed at the school, scenes of somewhat greater length would have given the neophyte actors an opportunity to maintain a character for more than a minute or two at a time.

Some notes on production values. Kudos to Lamont for the way the actors played the moments — the result of her able coaching in acting classes throughout the year — and for the well-executed technical elements in the show, especially the lighting design and cueing.

The stage direction, while adequate, was less than inspired. Johnson, who provided vocal coaching from October through June, provided seamless musical accompaniment at the performance, and Amie Backner’s costumes and Hilarie Colon’s wigs were well conceived and executed. The theatre technicians, both in the booth and backstage, did an outstanding job, evidenced by the fact that nothing on stage drew attention to their presence.

Finally, this performance, and the student actors, would have benefited greatly from the services of a choreographer to provide appropriate stage movement for transitions between scenes, and choreography to enhance the musical numbers.

Eileen Morrison Darren is the new theater reviewer for the Qguide. Send any comments, ideas or suggestions to her by e-mail: rafferty@timesledger.com, or by phone: 718-229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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