The first thing to say about "Saturday Night Fever -The Stage Show" is that it is just that, a stage adaptation of the now classic 1977 film. I say this from the beginning because it is pretty much impossible not to associate this iconic film from its equally iconic male lead, John Travolta. Pretty much everyone who was around at the time of the original film (myself included) will have enduring memories of that white suit and some of the disco scenes. It is those classic scenes that everyone remembers and it is easy to forget that these were only part of a film that covered many darker issues in late 1970s America. If you go to see this show, then yes the disco and the music is there, but there is also a pretty hard-hitting story being acted out on stage too. It is also fair to say at this stage that the tickets reccomend a 12 year plus minimum viewing age. This is a wise recommendation as there is some strong language in this production and also, although it is cleverly staged and not too visible on stage, a rape scene.
This production is set in 1979 and this is a few years later than the original contemporary setting of 1976 in the original film release. We open with people queuing up for petrol against the background of a Presidential broadcast from President Jimmy Carter. This is post-war America experiencing the unthinkable - an energy crisis and rapidly growing unemployment. Against this backdrop we meet a 19 year old Italian Tony Manero (Danny Bayne) and his group of friends. Tony (like his friends) feels that there is no way out of his economic situation and that there is no real future there for him. His only escape from the harshness of his situation is dancing at the weekends and the women at the local discos. When the local disco announces a dance competition with a $500 prize, Tony sees this as the only quick way to make some money, and partners with Stephanie (Naomi Slights). Home life for Tony is also not good. His father is out of work and his older brother is having some problems too (watch the show).
There are a lot of other things going on in tonight's show too and it would be unfair to just tell the whole story here. This really is (like the film) a tale in two parts - the music and dance, and the harsh life in America at the time if you were on the lower economic wage scale.
The music is of course what drives this show. All the classic Bee Gee songs are here such as "Night Fever" (which thankfully they refused to re-title to Saturday Night Fever), "Staying Alive", "More than A Woman "and the beautiful "How Deep is Your Love". "Jive Talking" is here too. This one is on the classic album but was not in the original film. There are also some classics from the film by other artists such as "If I Can't Have You" by Yvonne Elliman and "Disco Inferno" by The Trammps. Also in the show is "Nights on Broadway" which had been a Bee Gees hit in 1976 although most of us in the UK remember it by Candi Staton and this certainly was not on the original record as I must admit that I am sitting here with the original vinyl record double album soundtrack of the film as I write this review.
Is the show any good though? The answer to that is yes, but it does have some problems. The biggest problem is that Danny Bayne (Tony Manero) can not avoid being compared all night to John Travolta and that is unfair on him as he is an excellent actor, singer and dancer. Anyone taking on this stage role of course has the same almost poisoned chalice to take up. Naomi Slights as Stephanie is also a very accomplished singer and dancer and is visually (tall and blonde) far removed from the film image of Stephanie. Both work well and dance well together and that is vital for this production. There is an odd moment though, where in dance rehearsals with Tony for the competition, Stephanie takes out a music CD and puts it into a wall-mounted CD player. It may sound petty, but this is 1979 and commercial CDs were not available until 1982 and wall-mounted players were even later than that. This music should have been on a vinyl record or an old cassette tape. It is odd that this slipped through as otherwise such care has been taken in the period detailing of the sets and costumes.
If there was one issue with the show tonight, it was just that, despite this iconic music on stage, the audience were not as you would expect out of their seats and joining in. For some reason, that energy that was disco was not there. This was opening night though and that I hope will improve for cast and audience as the show settles in for this run.
If you were not around at the time, it is hard to portray just how huge this film was. Saturday Night Fever took a pretty much underground music scene called disco (often first played at soul and funk clubs here in the UK) and turned it into a global phenomenon. The music of the Bee Gees from this film was everywhere. It simply dominated the music charts of the time. This production at best gives you a little flavour of that experience.
Review by Tom King