Catching the moon in their hands

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Photo by Mark Frohna

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Photo by Mark Frohna

Saw “Fame” at Sunset Playhouse the other day. If you know me at all you know I’m a huge fan of Sunset and a supporter of all they do, but I’m gonna level with you on this one: I’m kinda glad I saw it for half price. I laughed, I clapped, I had fun, but $10? That’s about right.

The show has some really nice things going for it, namely that it features genuinely young actors playing genuinely young characters. There’s something that’s always struck me as a little false about seeing a 26 year old try to deliver the energy of a 15 year old, so it was nice not having to sit through that charade in this production.

The downside to using younger performers, of course, is that you run into a lot more “young actor pitfalls,” ie. singing through the nose, substituting faux nervous laughter for introspection and development of empathy, turning off your face until it’s your turn to talk and then firing up the pearly whites. You could see a lot of potential in some of the performers, but the lisps, the front-talking, the VERY HEAVY presentationalism (even for musical theatre), the waiting-til-it’s-their-turn-to-talk, the frequent looks into the audience… Some very nice, genuine efforts, but some of them really have their work cut out for them.

Because some of the folks involved in the show are fairly young (or maybe they just make me feel old?), I’m only going to name names for the parts that really stood out for me in a positive way. Not that these were the only good folks in the show, but a few other standouts also have some significant “they were good, but…” statements attached to them in my mind that I couldn’t not include as qualifiers, so I’d just as soon stick to the positives. ‘S’nice? ‘S’nice.

Deidra Fabian (ensemble): You want actors like this in your ensemble. Loads of energy, beautiful smile, but never act-y, never scene stealingly hyper. You know the kind I mean, right? This girl was lovely and fresh and fun and a fantastic support to the production. Keep it up, Deidra. You’re doing exactly what you should be doing.

Ashley Levells (Mabel Washington): I’d watch this young woman in anything. Always in the moment, original, fun, energetic, but with a clear understanding that she’s part of a cast and not in a one woman show. Though Lord knows she could be. Great soloist. Her big song was easily (far and away) the best number in the show. And her non-verbals? Funny as hell.

Cameron Meilicke (Nick Piazza): Either this guy *is* Nick, or he just really nailed this production’s interpretation of the character. Gave a charming performance, very sweet voice, and some of the better acting moments in the show. I like this guy.

Samantha Moyer (Grace “Lambchops” Lamb): Maybe it’s because I know a girl whom this character reminded me of a great deal, but I couldn’t get enough of this kid. Just cute as a button, loads of energy, another team player. Seemed very comfortable in whatever she was doing, and you can’t teach that.

Mary Rodgers (Miss Esther Sherman): I don’t envy actors playing teacher roles in shows like this one. People go to see the kids dance around and sing on lunch tables, not to feel the frustration of the adults monitoring those tables during their free period. Mary really worked that dichotomy in her favor, however, by keeping her scenes strong, and her songs memorably performed. She was an endearing respite from the chaos, and never once fell into some of the more common traps actors tend to fall into when playing parts significantly older than their actual age.

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Pic by Mark Frohna

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Photo by Mark Frohna

The production also benefited from the beautiful work (as always) of artists Michael Desper (Scenic Designer) and John Dolphin (Lighting Designer). Everything on the set worked; you could see everything you were supposed to see, there were construction surprises built in to even the simplest scenes, and half the set was made from styrofoam and pool noodles. Where I come from that’s not just art- that’s genius. The lighting on the set was bright and colorful without looking like you’d walked into a disco. Some really beautiful mood effects were created without loss of visibility, and the multitude of cues kept things fun, moving, and alive. As for the costumes? I hope you understand the compliment in this statement when I say the costumes made me not mind the prospect of 80s fashions making an even stronger resurgence into the general public in the near future. Yes: they were actually that cute.

As of right now there are four performances left; this Thursday the 6th at 7:30, Friday the 7th at 8:00, Saturday the 8th at 8:00 and Sunday the 9th at 2:00. I’d recommend it for anyone with kids who are into the whole High School Musical/ Jonas Brothers/ Miley Cyrus thing, but I’d suggest you leave the very youngest ones at home as some of the language and topics covered are, well– they’re accurate for high school aged kids, which means there might be a few more curse words and pelvic thrusts than you really want to bring you 7 year old around for. I guarantee it’s cleaner by a long shot than the upcoming movie version will be, but something about seeing pelvic thrusts live makes them all the more jarring and slightly giggle inducing…

Click here to read Express Milwaukee’s mini blog review of the show, and here to read the Waukesha Freeman’s review.

Incidentally, I just realized this Mark Frohna guy who took the above pictures (which I yoinked from Sunset’s Facebook page) is the same guy who did my friend Libby’s new headshots. I don’t know what his rates are, but if you live in the Milwaukee area and you’re looking for headshots you should check this guy out. Libby’s pics turned out gorgeously, and while I attribute a huge percentage of her headshot success to the fact that she is a beautiful woman and any picture taken of her is bound to look great, what this Frohna fellow supplied skill-wise is no small shakes. You can check him out at

But wait! There’s more!

Since my last post I went to the Renaissance Faire, bought a beautiful new corset, got my credit card number stolen, watched about 15 travel DVDs from the library, dreamed I ran a writers’ retreat visited by a couple whose race kept changing, and finally began saving my CDs onto my hard drive. As it is 11:27 pm on a Monday night, however, I am going to leave it to you to just imagine how exciting each of those topics would be were I to extrapolate upon them here.



  1. I seriously wonder if the director did not see Ashley do her song for the first time and go “Um….yeah. Could you make that a little less awesome, cuz it kind of makes the other songs kind of…well…turd-like”.

  2. @ Caileigh: *Some* of them might not mind. It’s not an entirely positive review. :( But I’ll trust you to be a far better judge of whether or not it should be shared than I could ever be. :S

    Sounds like you guys had a pretty close-knit cast. I sure hope you’re able to maintain some of those friendships; you seemed like you all had a lot of great chemistry amongst yourselves. One of the greatest parts of doing big shows like this, particularly when you’re younger, is you can make a lot of friends through the experience. I think that’s one of the greatest things about doing community theatre, really. :)

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