Review: 2** Saturday Night Fever @marlowetheatre

#Tweetingit – 2** a troubling storyline which should be updated for a modern audience and choreography that could be far more impressive particularly since the cast doesn’t sing. 5***** for the “Bee Gees” performing the classic songs. Full review to follow.

Saturday Night Fever is possibly the first of the Jukebox musicals; a show jam-packed with Bee Gees hits coupled with a dark and gritty story.

For those who haven’t seen the film, it stars John Travolta as Tony Manero, a working-class young man who spends his weekends dancing and drinking at a local Brooklyn disco. While there, Tony is the champion dancer. 2730His circle of friends, weekend dancing and the fact he is adored by the ladies, help him to cope with the harsh realities of his life: a dead-end job, clashes with his unsupportive and squabbling parents and racial tensions in the local community. Meanwhile, everyone around him are battling with problems of their own. Stephanie, his dance partner, trying to fit into the big city, Annette, his previous dance partner and would be girlfriend, dealing with rejection, and all his male buddies coping with what it means to grow up.

The most recent stage revival is described as “spectacularly reimagined in a big new music and dance extravaganza.” but, for me, it lacked some of the pizzazz and spectacular dancing that it promised. Combine this with a leading man who seemed mightily uncomfortable in the role and a story which desperately needs some updating for a modern audience,  it all, very sadly, just didn’t sit right.

Richard Winsor as Tony Manero, is clearly a very talented dancer; he is ex Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures having performed with the company for 10 years playing the titular role in both A Picture Of Dorian Gray and Edward Scissorhands, and has been in the iconic Swan Lake all over the world. L-R-Kate-Parr-Stephanie-Richard-Winsor-Tony-Saturday-Night-Fever-UK-Tour-c-Pamela-Raith-Photography_073-1050x745But, I don’t think that 70s disco is his style. I wanted him to be less on point and less perfect as it looked uncomfortable and jarring, and lacked the charisma we have come to expect in Tony Manero.

There were however many positives. Firstly, Gary McCann’s set is very impressive and looks great. Some of the supporting cast also stood out from start to finish. On the dancing side of things, Rhianne Alleyne and Javier Cid as Maria and Caesar, the Spanish dancers competing against Tony and Stephanie were incredible, and Owen Broughton as Gus was the star supporting dancer for sure; my eye was constantly drawn to him during group numbers. Edward Handoll, Alistair Hill and Matt Faull. as “the Bee Gees”, who sang the majority of the songs throughout the show, really had amazing voices and Handoll in particular, taking the descant, was truly stunning. I would love to hear them singing the final chorus of Immortality on repeat!

Having established the dynamic that the “Bee Gees” would provide the majority of the soundtrack while the actors provided the dancing, I was surprised when this was changed in favour of Annette (Anna Campkin) singing “If I can’t have you”, not dancing and surrounded by other cast members, clapping over her, admittedly excellent, performance. 047_Saturday-Night-Fever_Pamela-Raith-PhotographyWith Annette, and later Bobby C, having both sung solos (with Bee Gee backing), I fully expected that Tony would follow this trend when his solo appeared. However, in a jarring change of pace, Winsor instead performed a somewhat confusing interpretive dance.

Moving onto to the story, as I mentioned earlier, the story was also troubling. It is set in a time where women were treated differently and “different” was bad. But I think that there are ways to update the story to get across that these views are no longer held. Perhaps one of the characters is uncomfortable with what is going on, amends are made in some way or maybe even that there is a message that we’ve moved on past this sort of thing and what was acceptable in the 70’s is not accepted now. This was seen in the most recent version of The Full Monty perfectly, and I think this show could do with doing the same. When Tony assaults the woman he claims to have feelings for and then in the very next scene she falls into his arms, it is not a sweet love story but an uncomfortable start to a potentially abusive relationship. This is particularly interesting when Tony has seen his father treat his mum badly for years, and yet chooses to do the same thing to Stephanie.

I also understand that it is set in a time when certain language was “more acceptable” and there are parts of the story which require an understanding of the prejudices held by some of the characters, however some of the repetition of said country-specific pejoratives felt rather gratuitous.

One person who is of desperate need of mention is Faizal Jaye as the DJ. For much of the show, he was on a platform on his own either freestyling or joining in with the group numbers, both of which he did with great energy and style without fail.

Overall, the music is beautiful and it does make you want to get up and boogie but this production needs some work and a heavy dose of charisma.

Saturday Night Fever is running at the Marlowe until Saturday 9th February and is on tour thereafter. Tickets can be bought here

Details of the tour can be found here

Director – Bill Kenwright

Choreographer – Bill Dreamer

Musical Director – Rich Morris

On a side note to the creators of the program, I was sad not to see bios or photos of the cast. It is so lovely to see who is performing in their debut show, what other shows people have been in, and to be able to recognise fantastic chorus, swing and supporting cast.

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