So, who said French people don't like musicals ? The touring production of Fame that opened at the Folies Bergere in Paris on Feb. 19 is doing extremely well. After less than a week of performances, it was announced that the limited engagement has been extended another month, ending its run Apr. 12 instead of Mar. 15.
Of course, the film and the TV series Fame, have always been very popular in France, so it helps. Furthermore, the publicity and advertising campaign for this production have been particularly intense, with posters spread all around the city, numerous TV appearances and even a Fame night at the Queen, a trendy Parisian nightclub.
Though originally produced as a stage version in London and now brought to continental Europe by German producer Wolfgang Bocksch, this production of Fame has a mostly American cast. Playbill On-Line spoke to Caren Lyn Manuel who plays Carmen, the sensual Latin student who bewitches all of her male fellow classmates, and Maurice Villa-Lobos who plays Schlomo, the shy violin player who is sincerely in love with her. Talking about her relationship with her character, Manuel says "My character and I are very close to each other. It's always good to perform every night a role I am so attached to and that I can relate to so well."
In the show, Carmen turns to Schlomo to collaborate on songwriting. About his character, Villa-Lobos says that "he's an introverted shy musical genius. He's very sensitive but he can't express his emotions very well and I think his relationship with Carmen forces him to feel things he's not used to feeling." With this role, Villa-Lobos gets to use his multiple talents. "I'm really lucky. The creators always say that it's a really great part for me because I get to use everything. I get to play violin, sing, act and dance. I wish I sang more in the show but it's pretty much well-rounded so I can't ask for a better role."
Villa-Lobos studied music first but got into musical theatre at age 14, working in summer stock. "It was a lot of hard work because we were apprentices, so in the main stage shows, we were in the chorus or playing small ensemble parts. We also had to do other aspects of theatre, we had to build the sets, we had to be the ushers, we had to clean. We did everything and we also had to perform eight shows a week. It was hard work but it was worth it because I learned a lot." Co-star Manuel started as a figure skater before getting into musical theatre with the role of Eponine in one of the touring companies of Les Miserables. "It was kind of overwhelming. It helped me prepare myself for something like this. It taught me about being a professional. It was a pretty good experience." Talking about the future, dream roles and life after Fame, Manuel says "I've always wanted to be in Rent and that's the only musical I think that I would like to be in after Fame. You can't really get much better than this for me. I don't think I'll ever really find a role as I'm into, as Carmen. So, I'd like to actually move on from musical theatre to recording and writing my own music. I have a band that's waiting for me in L.A. when I get back."
Villa-Lobos will join the German production of Les Miserables in Duisburg after his Paris engagement. But his main activity, besides being in Fame, is writing a musical based on a children's book. "It takes place in Paris, so it's perfect, I can do all my research here... It's taking me a long time [composing] but I'm really excited about it and hopefully it will be finished this year . . . I'm doing the book, lyrics and music but I have a few friends who help me along the way, like Caren [Lyn Manuel]. It's funny, we have that same relationship we have in the show. We work on music together. She's helping with myrics and I write the music. It's pretty crazy."
Pictures and information on this production can be found on the Folies Bergere web site. It is also now possible to book tickets on-line.
For tickets and informations on Fame at the Folies Bergere, call 331 44 79 98 98 or click on Folies Bergere. Runs until Apr. 12.
-- By Stephane Ly-Cuong