Batavia Players’ youth theater presents ‘Fame’ this weekend

Aug 10, 2017

BATAVIA — Animosity, competition and jealousy may well be the reality for many performing artists in the 1980s-based musical “Fame.”

Backstage in 2017, however, has been a refreshingly different experience, Tiffany Keicher says.

“The cast is a lot more united. Everyone is very humble, everyone wants to get better … it’s about teamwork,” the 20-year-old said during rehearsal for Batavia Players Summer Youth Theater. “This is my first lead ever; it’s quite daunting. There are a lot of lines, a lot of choreography and a lot of singing. You’re in the spotlight 24/7 and don’t want to let the team down.”

Keicher stars as lead character Carmen during “Fame’s” debut at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday and again at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18 and 19 at Harvester 56 Theater on Harvester Avenue.

A story about several multi-cultural and energetic students at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, “Fame” features Carmen, who is obsessed with gaining fame and fortune, ambitious actress Serena, wisecracking comedian/bad boy Joe, quiet violinist Schlomo, dyslexic dancer Tyrone, determined actor Nick, overweight dancer Mabel and poor dancer Iris.

Her role may not be that much of a stretch for Keicher, of Attica. She was looking for something to do while on break from Young Americans College of the Performing Arts in California. Her talent has taken her to Japan and next month on a national three-month tour — including a stop in her hometown. Her dream goal is to perform on Broadway one day, and her high school portfolio is full of drama club, chorus and band gigs to help make it happen.

“Pretty much any musical activity I could do I would shove myself in there,” she said.

Her spunky and hopeful character’s solo, “In L.A.,” reflects her wistful yearning: “It’s only a dream and a dream is a wish you wish for you.” Keicher’s rendition is sweet and full of confidence, accented by her burgundy-red, curly long hair. Things don’t go exactly as planned during Carmen’s trip to Los Angeles. Life isn’t “as great and as golden as she thought,” Keicher said.

It’s just one of many stories told by the characters of their own experiences with pursuing on-stage glory. Nineteen-year-old Celeste Brownell plays Miss Sherman, a teacher who works hard to offer up life lessons. Students either love her or hate her, Brownell said, as she introduces expectations of the school. She’s strict and wants her students to get the job done. But her motives are pure.

“She treats these kids like her kids,” Brownell said. “She wants them to succeed … she’s so hard on them because she never had her own children.”

For Cameron Bontrager, art really does imitate life. His character Schlomo follows an instrumental path. Bontrager, a junior at Batavia High School this fall, began playing violin in fourth grade and has since added guitar, bass, drums and piano. Schlomo sticks to violin in a tug of war with his family’s desire to see him perform the classics while he wants to pursue other genres.

The character is initially very shy and gets pushed down by his teachers, Bontrager said. That is, until his shining moment.

“He really finds himself,” the 16-year-old actor said. “That’s what we’re all trying to do.”

The 39-member cast ranges in age from 10 to 21. There are newcomers, including Tiffany Keicher, and more veteran members, all lending talent to portray “what can be some difficult characters,” Director Patrick Burk said.

“As always, I believe we get the best of the best, many with college experience and many with a ton of background in dance and vocals,” he said. “I am overwhelmingly pleased and proud of this cast. It is a difficult show with a lot of dance and music. It also represents many different types of styles and, of course, recreating the 80s can be difficult if not painful for some of us.”

It wouldn’t have been summer without youth theater, in its 21st season, he said. He loves it times three and looks forward to spending time “with a bunch of talented kids,” his wife Jane, assistant director, and Musical Director Kathy White (who served as inspiration for Brownell’s Miss Sherman).

“The show itself is PG-13 and it really does touch on many things that young people touch on each day. It is very current in retrospect and really shows that things do not really change all that much. Issues are sometimes redefined but there are many of the same issues,” he said. “The music of “Fame” and the wonderful vocal work done by Kathy White is so incredible. The songs are so poignant and to see this production with such advanced dance and a very hard vocal score come alive on our stage with such excellence amazes me. I could not be prouder.”

Tickets are $15 adults, $12 students and seniors and are available for purchase at www.dailynewstickets.com or from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at the box office at 56 Harvester Ave.

By Joanne Beck, The Daily News