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Saturday Night Fever at New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

Saturday Night FeverIn 1976 Nik Cohn wrote an article for New York magazine entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” about the thriving disco scene in Brooklyn although he later confessed to having made the whole thing up! Made up or not, little did Cohn realise that his article would inspire a major Hollywood movie, make a star of John Travolta, spawn one of the biggest selling film soundtracks of all time and over forty years later, the latest in a long line of stage productions.

For those of you who haven’t seen Saturday Night Fever in any of its incarnations (where have you been for the past forty years?), it tells the story of Tony Manero who hates his job working in a paint shop in Bay Ridge and the fact that he’s still living at home with his parents – all Tony wants to do is dance. He lives for Saturday nights where he can hang out with his friends and dance all night at the local disco, 2001 Odyssey. One night there’s an announcement that there’s going to be a dance competition with $1000 prize but he needs a partner – is it to be local girl Annette or the new girl on the block Stephanie? And apart from a couple of sub-plots about his brother Frank who’s quitting being a priest and Bobby C, a friend who’s got a girl pregnant, that’s about it.

So, what made Saturday Night Fever such a success? Well apart from Travolta’s charismatic performance, it’s all about the music. Impresario Robert Stigwood got the movie rights to Cohn’s article and as he was managing the Bee Gees at the time, he had them write most of the songs for the movie such as “Stayin’ Alive”, “Night Fever” and “How Deep is Your Love” and the rest is, as they say, history.

It was first performed on the stage in 1998 at The London Palladium and has played in various different productions ever since. This new production, which is directed by Bill Kenwright, opened last night in Wimbledon before heading off on a long national tour. What differentiates this production from the others is that three actors perform as the Bee Gees and sing all the songs. This is an interesting device as the film wasn’t a musical, it used the music to set the scene, accompany the action and be danced to in the disco. However, whilst for most of the first act, none of the characters sang, suddenly in “If I Can’t Have You”, Annette sings along with the Bee Gees which seemed a little odd. Then in the second act, Bobby C sang “Tragedy” which really didn’t work as he clashed with the precise harmonies of the Bee Gees – it sounded like he was singing at a karaoke pub night! Why they didn’t stick with just the Bee Gees singing I don’t know – it seemed to be working well.

This is a big production with its set of moving gantries, stairs and walkways reminiscent of the elevated railway that used to run in Brooklyn. The 70s costumes are all very evocative of the time and there is, of course, Manero’s iconic white, three-piece suit which almost needs a credit of its own! There’s a large cast of twenty-two and an uncredited band of five or six musicians who played superbly but at times were just too loud.

The big weakness for me was Richard Winsor as Tony Manero. Winsor who trained as a ballet dancer and appeared as a long-standing character in “Casualty” just didn’t have the charisma the character needs. He’s on-stage for nearly the whole time and needs to carry the show but Winsor just looked slightly awkward and outside his comfort zone. The rest of the cast were all excellent and some of the dancing was exhilarating. However, the dialogue was a little clunky at times and whilst in the marketing (but not in the programme), it states “Please note this show contains adult themes and strong language”, I was surprised by the amount of full-on swearing there was which seemed to jar in what is basically a jukebox musical and not a serious drama.

I think the main problem with this production is that it seemed under-rehearsed. Critics get invited on a specific press night and we have no idea how long the rehearsal period has been – sometimes not long enough. I’m sure this show will get tighter as the tour goes on and everyone gets comfortable with their part. As I said earlier, Saturday Night Fever is all about the music – and there are some great 70s disco classics here so get your dancing shoes on and boogie on down to a theatre near you – it’s touring until at least the early part of 2019.

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Fitter

Marking 40 years since its famous UK cinema release, Saturday Night Fever is spectacularly reimagined in a big new music and dance extravaganza.

Whilst paying homage to the 1977 John Travolta classic, this new stage version promises more drama, more music and hot new choreography, which is sure to have you dancing in the aisles!

Saturday Night Fever tells the story of Tony Manero, who escapes the harsh realities of working-class Brooklyn life when he embarks on a reckless, yet thrilling road to dancing success.

The movie soundtrack remains one of the bestselling of all time, featuring the Bee Gees greatest hits including Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, Night Fever, Tragedy and More Than a Woman as well as 70’s favourites Boogie Shoes, Disco Inferno and many more.

Matthew Bourne Company, Streetdance The Movie and Casualty star Richard Winsor plays ‘Tony’, the role which famously rocketed John Travolta to stardom.

Winsor has starred around the world, leading numerous celebrated Matthew Bourne dance productions including Swan Lake. On screen he landed cult dance movie Streetdance, and for the BBC was highly acclaimed for his gripping three year portrayal of Caleb in Casualty, until his shocking knife fight exit last year, which was watched by millions.

Please note, this show contains adult themes and strong language.

Fri 31 Aug – Sat 08 Sep New Wimbledon Theatre
Tue 11 Sep – Sat 15 Sep Liverpool Empire
Tue 25 Sep – Sat 29 Sep New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham
Tue 02 Oct – Sat 06 Oct Bristol Hippodrome Theatre
Tue 09 Oct – Sat 13 Oct Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Tue 16 Oct – Sat 20 Oct King’s Theatre Glasgow
Tue 23 Oct – Sat 27 Oct Edinburgh Playhouse
Tue 22 Jan – Sat 26 Jan Palace Theatre Manchester
Tue 12 Feb – Sat 16 Feb Grand Opera House York Saturday Night Fever

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2 thoughts on “Saturday Night Fever at New Wimbledon Theatre | Review”

  1. Having been a huge fan of both the film and the original stage production, I was unfortunately hugely disappointed in this production. I felt that many of the Directors choices simply didnt work. You cannot attempt to emulate some of the hard hitting themes the film explored in a half baked way. Throwing lots of swearing (very much absent from the original production) and throwing in a few homophobic or racist scenes that are poorly explained is not sufficient to explore what the film explored and when it comes to songs that were actually supposed to deliver a message about how the character was feeling (Annette – If I Cant Have You, Stephanie – Whose Sorry Now and mostly notably Bobby C’s Tragedy) then you categorically cannot have a character who should be completely alone on the stage instead surrounded by people and singing against the “Bee Gees” doing a pop version of what the character is trying to sing emotionally and generally vying for dominance. Indeed while having he Bee Gees singing (the original production the characters all sang themselves) was a novelty and would have worked well if it had stuck purely to background songs, it was off putting as a means of telling a story. I will confess to having liked that they sang Immortality rather than the character of Tony as it allowed for a more emotional scene, but truly I would generally have rather dispensed with the Bee Gees altogether than have them treat the stage as a tribute band that happened to have other people on stage with them. The choreography, so inspiring in the imaginative hands of Arlene Phillips, felt in this show to be repetitive and clunky. It was good fun but it didnt excite me in the way the original did. When I got back home I re-watched a YouTube clip of Adam Garcia demonstrating just a few of the dance moves he danced to the epic “Night Fever” dance scene in the original production – something he sang as well as danced – I felt so excited by just those few moves demonstrated on a YouTube clip, which was an excitement missing from last nights production. The supporting cast were great dancers but I felt that Richard Winsor, a trained ballet dancer, was very disappointing as a dancer in the show, which is all the more disappointing when considering he must have been hired for his dance ability given he does not sing a note throughout the whole show. For the most part there was little energy from him and it felt he was marking the dance rather than dancing the dance. There were a few notable scenes that he acted well and I will give the man credit for the fact he was clearly genuinely crying when Bobby C falls from the Bridge, which made me quite emotional. However this was yet another scene I felt the Director handled poorly and the acting generally throughout from Mr Winsor was not great in my opinion. Either he or the Director seemed to miss the point that the character of Tony had a tough outer shell but a clear vulnerability and a progressive distaste for the people and world surrounding him in Brooklyn. Mr Winsor spent the entire first half and most of the second half with an over confident sneer on his face. For the first time ever I was not rooting for the character of Tony Manero. The character of Stephanie was also not as good a dancer as I felt she needed to be, although I will say for both of them their fatigue was showing and I suspect there was insufficient number of weeks rehearsal prior to the production and then a lot of rehearsal crammed into a few days. It did not make for a great opening night in that regard and the lack of rehearsal showed as there were a number of issues from the lack of timing to sound problems plus a clear level of fatigue throughout from many of the cast.

    There were some excellent scenes which I felt worked very well and while the dancing was not inspiring in the way either the original or the film were, it was still lots of fun and played a lot music I love. I very much loved getting up the dance at the end and if you love that sort of thing then you will probably like this.

    Did I have a good evening? A tentative yes. I enjoyed it to a degree but I cant get past the issues, which were numerous. This should have been amazing and it wasn’t

    Do I wish I had seen it in a weeks time rather than opening night? Yes as in a week hopefully a few of the issues such as competing sound and timing problems will have been ironed out and possibly the actors will have gotten some sleep and put more energy into it

    Would I see it again? I saw the original production 6 times in 3 months because I loved it so much. It had an energy and excitement that you couldnt help loving and feeling motivated by. This production was fun in the way a low budget amateur production can be fun – it makes you smile but you dont leave the theatre walking on that cloud of air that I seek (and usually get) from musical such as this. I am glad I have seen it but I wouldnt rush back. It didnt tick all the boxes for me and I resent paying as much money as I did for those seats last night for a production that should have exceeded expectations but instead left me feeling ‘oh, ok then’. I just couldnt justify that sort of money on a mediocre production a second time around

    1. Just seen Saturday Night Fever at the New Wimbledon Theatre and left having thoroughly enjoyed it. The audience gave a standing ovation to what was a brilliant show. Great dance sequences throughout and favourite songs sang by 3 talented Bee Gees tribute singers, The show exceeded our expectations and I applaud the talented dancers and actors, particularly, the lead who put his heart and sole into the role. You were amazing.

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