Fame The Musical star Mica Paris BIG INTERVIEW: ‘I could never be in a production that’s just sweet and fluffy’
When Mica Paris saw the original film of Fame on its release in 1980, it had a huge impact on the 11-year-old.
Chronicling the lives of a group of talented youngsters at the High School of Performing Arts in New York as they attempt to become stars, it opened Mica’s eyes to a world she was unaware of.
Already singing regularly in church by that stage, Mica possessed a precocious talent.
‘I was singing in the church from the time I was seven and I won my first award at Wembley Stadium at 11, I was like this child prodigy,’ recalls Mica. ‘We went to church seven days a week – Bible study, choir practice, it was hardcore, it sounds really rigid but it wasn’t.
‘There was a lot of music every day – my grandparents had this five-bedroom house in Lewisham and it was always full of music and people.’
And she remembers vividly seeing Fame for the first time.
‘Back then movies were huge, my dad really spoiled us, he would take us to the movies at weekends – you went to the Wimpy and you went to the movies – that was what you did. It was like going to Buckingham Palace, it was amazing.
‘I can remember seeing this with my father and thinking: “Oh, if only I could be in a school like that!” But obviously my parents couldn’t afford that. And living with my grandparents, their school of art was the church.’
At the time, while they are now commonplace in the UK, the performing arts school was very much an American phenomenon.
‘This was uncharted territory, that was why it was such a fantastic thing: “Wow, people actually go to school just to learn to sing or dance or act?” In England they’d be like: “When are you going to get a proper job?”’
However, describing her grandparents’ home as ‘like a train station,’ she goes on: ‘There was never a dull moment, all right, it was all for God but it felt like entertainment to me. My aunt and uncle were always on the piano playing Scott Joplin or Mozart, when I walked in from school that’s all I would hear every day,’ and she sings the opening bars of Joplin’s The Entertainer.
‘They rehearsed every day, and that’s why I’m pitch perfect, because every day I was playing around with my aunt and uncle who were classically trained.’
Mica found her own fame while still a teenager. Her 1988 debut album, So Good, went platinum and yielded hit singles in My One Temptation, Where Is The Love and more.
But she could always rely on her family to keep her grounded. Mica recalls one particular incident where she had just returned home after touring in America.
‘I came back from New York, and went to see my mum and dad for dinner one night, and everyone was there, the whole family.
‘I walked in and we were talking about family stuff and what it was like being on tour with Ashford and Simpson and Simply Red and all that, and my mum said uncle such-and-such has got this event and they want me to come.
‘So I said: “I can’t do that mum, I’m public property now….”
‘I had the whole family come down on me, like: “Who do you think you are?” That was the moment I realised, if you’re thinking of becoming some “popstar”, girlfriend, it ain’t going to happen.’ And she gives a big cackle. ‘They roasted me.’
Alongside her singing, Mica has gone on to land numerous TV and radio presenting gigs, including two series of What Not To Wear, and on stage – with starring roles in The Vagina Monologues and Chicago.
Since last summer, though, she has been appearing in the musical version of Fame as it tours the country, playing Miss Sherman, the disciplinarian English teacher.
‘It’s very much like what I am like as a parent,’ she laughs. ‘It’s pretty much me playing out my parental side, as I am with my children, it’s my tough love.
‘I’m the only one who wants them to have some academic education whereas everyone else wants them to focus on their artistic side. You need to know about the great writers and literature, and I’m clearly not the most popular, but these are all my students and I’m basically kicking their butts.’
Mica also found herself drawn to the fact that the musical retains the grit of Alan Parker’s original film.
‘You’ve got the dark side of fame and all that entails – what I loved about the script was that it reminded me of the original film. I’ve always been a massive fan of Alan Parker – Midnight Express, The Commitments – he’s just amazing.
‘A lot of musicals these days are a bit too sweet. I could never be in a production that’s just sweet and fluffy, I’d run a mile, I love that this show shows the dark side of fame, as well as having great music it has a really good script.’
Mica’s co-stars in Fame include Jorgie Porter, best-known for playing Theresa McQueen in Hollyoaks and Keith Jack who finished second on BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do in 2007 and has since carved out a successful stage career.
And plenty of the cast have come up through the stage-school route.
‘Absolutely! They’re way younger than I am, they could be my kids – my eldest has just got married at 28 and a lot of them are like 22-23.
‘When I’m with these kids, I watch them and it’s wonderful to see how passionate they are because in my time these schools didn’t really exist. To see that these kids have devoted 10 years of their life or more to studying their craft and are passionate about it, and aren’t just going down that reality TV route.’
Watching them perform reinforces to Mica why she loves the show.‘It reminds me that it’s the stars that you really love are the ones who worked hard at it and took it seriously, who didn’t just get a social media page and get famous overnight. And that’s what’s good about this show and why we’re getting such great reviews, it reminds people, this is a craft, it’s not a joke, we’re here to touch people’s lives, whether it’s doing a dance routine, singing, or playing a musical instrument.’
Fame is at the Kings Theatre, Southsea from July 22-27. Tickets £20-39. Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk.