BY LOU PARDI
It’s been three years since Sam Ludeman graduated from performing arts school, so playing funnyman Joe Vegas in Fame brings up memories.
Not that he was the showman his character Joe Vegas is. His journey to fame was decidedly considered. “During year 12 I said to my drama teacher, ‘what should I do with my life?’ Academically I was fine but I didn’t want to do anything like that. She said, ‘why don’t you audition for this good arts school in Ballarat?’” Sam got in and had an excellent first year of partying before he realised he had fallen for performance, and it was what he really wanted. Commitment firmly in place, he tidied up his act. “I really worked hard in second and third year and sang every night and danced every night and practiced acting and did outside courses. It just snowballs.”
After graduating he was successful at his first audition, for a show at Crown Casino in Melbourne. “It was like oh my god – I get paid to go in and sing – you feel like a star anyway but they pay you to do it, so it was totally surreal. Now it’s about keeping honest and remembering it’s the best job in the world for me.”
Fame touches on many experiences familiar to Sam. “[It’s about] four years of performing arts in New York City. Kids come together,, there’s music kids, drama kids (actors) and dancers. There’s a love relationship that goes on between two of the actors and two of the dancers and it’s about us finding our feet. We go through a lot over the two hours where we cover 4 years. It’s about what it’s like to be paid for a living.”
So are there any parallels between the rehearsal process and the Fame storyline? “There are. There’s no shomances (show romances) as we call them, there’s none of those I can see budding but it’s so similar that’s what’s kind of cool about it. I went to a performing arts school so it is similar. At the start we had to open our letter to see if we got in and I remember opening my letter – we open the show with that song and it’s like, I know this feeling. We’re an ensemble as a family playing Fame. I cannot imagine our last night where we sing Bring on Tomorrow which is the last graduation song.”
Fame will be well-known to many people (and many ladies who as girls used to fly around their living room in leg warmers). Reinterpreting characters who are known and loved is always a challenge. Director and choreographer Kelley Abbey has allowed the cast to make the characters their own. “Kelley is really good with me,” says Sam. “She has an idea of how she wants the characters to be, but she’s given me a lot of freedom with my songs. Because Joe is such an extrovert – if you don’t make it your own it can seem a bit fake.” Rather than directing particular approaches, Kelley has worked with Sam to experiment. “There were a few times where she said ‘Each day give me a different one and I’ll choose the one I like,’” he says.
The final touches for the characters will be costumes by Janet Hine, known for her work on So You Think You Can Dance. “Joe is half Spanish and I get really kind of pimpy gross costumes, but I really like them because he needs to be cheesy. He has flares and tight button-up shirts. He thinks he’s a bit of a gangster and he’s not because he’s raised in the Bronx.”
Fame has also given Sam the opportunity to work with very experienced performers Darlene Love, Andrew McFarlane and Brian Wenzel. He says of Darlene, “She is a superstar (she recorded ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’). She’s a big deal. She sings her heart and soul every single time and has the biggest voice. She’s amazing everyone will love her. She sings this song saying ‘these are our children’ – she’s the principal of the school, makes me tear up nearly every time.”
Whilst Sam’s background is in singing, he has trained as a dancer and actor, and is especially impressed with the Fame dancers. “The dancers are just out of this world. There are usually those few dancers in a show where you go ‘they’re the best’, but they’re all great. There’s eight So You Think You Can Dance people, and they’re just phenomenal.”
Whilst rehearsal has been rewarding, Sam can’t wait to take Joe to the stage and see how his lines work in front of 2,000 people who haven’t been watching them for months (the cast have stopped laughing at his jokes). And it sounds as though it’s going to fly. “It’s a great show,” he says.
This article first appeared in Beat magazine.