Review – Saturday Night Fever ****

This version of Saturday Night Fever is very much a faithful interpretation of the film. And although we might now look back on the film as simply a vehicle for a series of classic disco hits and a beacon of questionable 70s style, in its day it wasn’t attempting to be either of those things. Now it’s a period piece but it was created as a contemporary tale of Brooklyn kids struggling to make something of their lives and avoiding their dead-end jobs and lack of ambition by living out their fantasies at the 2001 club on a Saturday Night. Add in teenage pregnancy, child abuse, unemployment, sexism, racism, gang culture and suicide and you can see this is a serious and, at times, seriously dark piece.

The cast bring this all to life with admirable conviction. It’s a tribute to them that the serious aspects of the drama are woven so well into the musical context provided by the Bee Gees. The production resists the temptation to just give-in and become a juke box musical of their hits. The drama is allowed room to unfold and characters reveal themselves to us. Richard Winsor as Tony Manero has the biggest challenge. The part requires outstanding dancing talent, which he has (his CV includes the Central School of Ballet and numerous roles for Matthew Bourne). It also needs a certain naiveness and twinkle to soften his chauvinistic bravado. That comes across as the evening progresses, but early on it’s hampered by his delivery. The Brooklyn accent he has to affect makes it hard to follow all the dialogue in some of the early scenes, which are famous for their quick delivery featuring the bickering members of his Italian-American family at their most argumentative. But he certainly grows on you and we feel for him as he has to make difficult choices. I must also mention Raphael Pace who has a big journey to make with his character and handles it with convincing sensitivity.

All this is not to meant to play down the impact of the music. From the off it’s clear we are in safe hands. The Bee Gees hits – including some from other parts of their catalogue besides Saturday Night Fever – are brought gloriously to life. And unlike the film we have the three Bee Gees on stage , along with the brilliant six-piece band, to perform the numbers.

There’s an undeniable challenge with the piece, though. It’s not really a musical and the disco numbers are not constructed like typical musical theatre songs. They don’t build. They’re written as dance floor fillers and so they launch straight into the meat of the song from the beginning and stay their for three minutes. And this lack of a build denies us the big, applause generating finish. At the same time it’s clear the audience really enjoys the music and dance moments purely for what they are, regardless of the somewhat gritty story in which they find themselves.

Ultimately I think this production is treading a careful balance between celebrating the Bee Gees disco era and telling the story of Tony Manero and his life on the wrong side of the Brooklyn Bridge. If on seeing the show you invest in the latter you’ll enjoy the former all the more.



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