“Fame Jr.,” featuring a cast ranging in age from nine to 19 years old, was scheduled to take the stage in the North Bergen High School Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24 and Saturday, Aug. 25. The North Bergen Library is hosting the musical with free admission for the public. The high school is located at 7414 Kennedy Blvd.
Two days of auditions brought out 85 hopefuls from which 30 members were cast.
“They’ve come a long way since seeing them at auditions,” said Co-Director Paula Ribeiro.
The “Fame Jr.” cast rehearsed for two months before opening night, every week on Monday through Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Only one performer dropped out due to a family emergency.
Director Melissa Welz, a music teacher at the local Horace Mann School, said that originally the cast members stuck to their age groups but have now become one large family.
“They have grown,” said Welz. “They’re skilled, they know what discipline is.”
“Hudson County has a lot of heart.” – Director Melissa Welz
Welz thinks the shy kids that auditioned are now more outgoing.
“If you have a self-confidence problem or you’re shy, do a musical,” said Welz.
During rehearsal, tips were given to the cast. “No gum and cellphones,” said Ribeiro. “There were no smartphones in the ’80s.”
Many of the cast members were familiar with the original “Fame,” which began as a hit movie in 1980 and was later adapted into a six-season TV show and a stage show. It was recently remade for the movies. But the cast had not heard of “Fame Jr.”
Welz said that unlike the original, the scenes are shorter, and with no cursing. For character Carmen Diaz, who has a drug addiction, there are no drugs shown, just the effects the drugs do to her.
“Every character is different and every character has their own problem,” said Welz.
One of the “Fame Jr.” characters that made an impression on Welz is Tyrone Jackson, because he has a learning disability that is diagnosed by a teacher like herself.
Tyler Griffin, 18, plays Tyrone. He has performed in an Off-Broadway production of “High School Musical” prior to “Fame Jr.” Griffin describes Tyrone as a frustrated person who is very talented.
“I’m a little hard headed and I can be difficult at times,” said Griffin. “The character is fun.”
Janelle Guevarra, 17, plays Mrs. Esther Sherman, one of the teachers. She was chosen as Mrs. Sherman although she auditioned for Carmen. Her character is strict and intimidates the students. Guevarra compares Sherman to an older sister with “tough love” methods. Guevarra believes she was chosen for the role because she is loud and can project her voice. She aspires to become an actress.
“I found myself morphing into her character,” said Guevarra. “I learned that she has compassion.”
Natassha Rivera, 16, plays Mabel Washington. She relates to the character because she is not a typical skinny dancer. Her character gets made fun of, something Rivera admits she experiences in her own life. She enjoys the retro ’80s clothes which ties into her love for fashion. Rivera helped many of her cast members with their costumes.
“You have to know how to stay strong and be yourself,” said Rivera. “Do what makes you happy and don’t let anyone interfere.”
Show your support
“Come out and come see what we’re made of,” said Welz. “I really want the...people of North Bergen to see how great they are. People don’t understand how much work goes into this.”
Welz could not believe the show was free and did not need fundraising.
“Normally a show like this is a $25 ticket,” said Welz. “I can’t believe no fundraisers [were] needed.”
She thanked the cast, Library Director Sai Rao, the Library Board, Mayor Nicholas Sacco, the Board of Education, the North Bergen High School Music Department, District Music Supervisor George Haviland, and custodians at North Bergen High School.
“They [the library] helped me so much with this production,” said Welz. “They always want to try new things. If I had a problem I went to her [Sai Rao] and she took care of it. How great this town helps in the arts, they really do support the arts...”
After the musical is over Welz believes the cast will have “after show illness,” when actors go from an all-time high to depression because the show has come to an end.
For future productions, Welz would like to do “Sweeney Todd” or “West Side Story.”
She has directed several plays such as “Into the Woods,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Annie” in Ridgefield. This is her first play in Hudson County.
Guevarra loved working with Welz and knows that there will be more projects in the future.
“Mrs. Welz has become like a mother. She’s hard, but at the same time she’s welcoming, she’s warm,” said Janelle.
“North Bergen makes my dreams come true,” said Welz. “Hudson County has a lot of heart. It’s passion they have.”
Those interested can come to North Bergen High School for either performance.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org