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Saturday Night Fever at the Peacock Theatre, Sadler’s Wells

Disco is a large part of proceedings in Saturday Night Fever, perhaps predictably, with all the disco lights accompanying the pulsating rhythms, but rather refreshingly for what is essentially a jukebox musical (inasmuch as a lot of the musical numbers are recognisable), the plotline is substantial. It explores a number of socio-economic issues in New York in the 1970s – and some of the themes still resonate today. Tony Manero (Richard Winsor) works in retail but likes to dance in his spare time: more specifically, he likes to ‘strut’ (his choice of word) at the local disco at the weekend, hence the show’s title.

Richard Winsor (Tony) and Olivia Fines (Stephanie) - Saturday Night Fever - Photo by Paul Coltas.
Richard Winsor (Tony) and Olivia Fines (Stephanie) – Saturday Night Fever – Photo by Paul Coltas.

Entering a dance competition, Manero partners with Stephanie Mangano (Olivia Fines, who deftly captures the character’s self-assertiveness as well as her vulnerability – ‘super’, as the character would have it). They are awarded ‘first prize’, but he objectively thinks another couple, from Puerto Rico, performed better on the night. Manero decides he can’t accept the award and gives the trophy and prize money to the worthy winners. In short, the judges were apparently racially prejudiced. But this, of course, is not the only problem: women are not treated well, and there’s even a crime against the person for the audience to witness.

Some of the darker moments in the motion picture are taken out of the stage show. It could be argued that this means some of the more brutal elements of city living aren’t explored as deeply as they could be, though the rough and tumble of it is sufficiently captured. In short, who would want to be a young woman in that part of the world in the late Seventies? The upbeat music is so very necessary in what would otherwise be a relentlessly grim and depressing evening.

Manero is a complex character: raised by Frank (Phillip Aiden) and Flo (Melody E Jones), his (sometimes) indifferent and unsympathetic approach is at least partly down to a harsh upbringing, itself quite possibly a reflection of how Manero’s parents were themselves raised. But there are consequences of the most severe kind when a call for help is effectively ignored, and Bobbie C (Kevin O’Dwyer) belts out the Bee Gees’ hit ‘Tragedy’ for a reason.

Speaking of the Bee Gees, much of the singing is left to Barry (Jake Byrom), Maurice (James Hudson) and Robin Gibb (Oliver Thomson), who hit the high notes whilst stood on a platform high above the stage dressed in gold disco costumes. For all the narrative points in the show, it seemed to me that much of the audience had come to experience the song and dance aspects of proceedings, of which there were plenty. Oh, and a couple of on-stage costume changes solicited cheering and applause – the white suit, so closely associated with Saturday Night Fever that it’s even on the programme’s front cover, finally appears towards the very end of the show. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not accompanied by a medallion.

If anything, Richard Winsor’s dancing is so polished and precise (and why wouldn’t it be, given an almost incomparable back catalogue of roles in Sir Matthew Bourne’s productions) that the ruggedness of the central character is in danger of being softened. Bill Deamer’s choreography makes much of Winsor’s classical training, but some of it just looks out of place, particularly in ‘Immortality’. Still, the sound quality is impeccable throughout – I don’t think I missed a single lyric sung or line of spoken dialogue (it’s surprising, at least to me, how relatively rare that is). It was all at the right volume, too, loud enough to be heard clearly but never overdoing it. There’s an engaging feelgood factor to this show, with examples of overcoming adversity and a continuing desire to find a cathartic release through dancing. Worth seeing.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bill Kenwright by arrangement with the Robert Stigwood Organisation presents Saturday Night Fever.

Experience the best selling Bee Gees soundtrack live on stage in this spectacularly reimagined music and dance extravaganza. Follow the story of Tony Manero as he embarks on a reckless yet thrilling road to dancing success.

It’s a homage to the 1977 John Travolta classic with more drama, more music, and hot new choreography which is sure to have you dancing in the aisles.

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

Saturday Night Fever
Produced and directed by Bill Kenwright
Choreography by Bill Deamer
Design by Gary McCann
Lighting by Nick Richings
Sound by Dan Samson.
The stage adaptation is by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oakes.

UK Dates: 4 February- 26 March
https://www.sadlerswells.com/

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