Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Saturday Night Fever – dancing the night away with the musical stage version of the 1977 film (Grand Opera House until Saturday 24 September)

It’s nearly three years since Bill Kenwright’s Saturday Night Fever last toured through Belfast. It’s back on the stage of the Grand Opera House this week. Has much changed?

The production is definitely still at its finest when the cast are all on stage dancing. The choreography is sharp and everyone is confident with the routines. The angled mirror at the back of the set allows audiences in the stalls to see the pulsating dancefloor and shows off the fancy footwork and the movement of the amazing costumes. (The Christmas tree dress is by far the best outfit of the night!) Glitterballs are deployed across the auditorium to bring the sparkle closer to the audience.

The story is that paint shop worker Tony fancies his chances of winning $1,000 in the local discotheque competition if he can find the right partner. He blows off Annette who is crazy about him and sets his eyes on Stephanie, a classy dancer who is his equal on the dance floor, but isn’t interesting in a relationship.

The lead performers Jack Wilcox (Tony) and Rebekah Bryant (Stephanie) are impressive together on the dancefloor with great poise, eyelines, rolling hips and presence. Faizal Jay is still holding up the balcony groove with his fabulously over-the-top disco introductions, wild moves and bass tones. The script’s off-colour Elton John joke has finally been neutralised into something much more mundane.

Wilcox may yet win a UK Theatre award for how slowly and knowingly he can pull up a zip. Bryant has a very sweet voice that imbues What Kind of Fool with emotion after the interval.

Most of the singing is relegated to the three Gibb brothers who appear on a raised platform bedecked in gold lame suites, and superbly hit the familiar harmonies in the big numbers.

Billie Hardy never drops out of Annette’s persona when on stage, her every interaction riven with her character’s jealousy and obsessions. Her rendition of I Can’t Have You as Annette is a special moment in the first act. A lot of the central characters have a solo number. Harry Goodson-Bevan (Bobby C) seemed to have a great voice for the pent-up emotion of Tragedy, though his vocals were rarely allowed to cut through the mix, drowned out by the Gibbs brothers above.

The performance I attended was the first night of the second week of the new UK tour and there were still times when the stripped-back dialogue lost its pace becoming stilted, and moments when the sound and light cues hadn’t caught up with the action. Those issues will improve with every performance the cast and touring creative team get under their belt.

What can’t change is the underlying story, with the musical staying true – albeit somewhat sanitised – to the plot of the popular film. Saturday Night Fever revolves around the character of Tony, his worldview and his flaws. He’s a natural leader amongst his peers but self-centred and with a very warped opinion of women. To borrow a line from the script, Tony is “a jerk-off guy who doesn’t have his shit together”. The show is set in a terribly male world: women barely speak to other women. Bobby C’s pregnant girlfriend is dealt with as a problem for him with no mention of how to support his partner.

Tony’s evolution towards being a softer, less foul figure leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. The most awkward junction in the stage version comes when the show needs a song and dance number shortly after Tony has had to deal with revelations around suicide, rape, unplanned pregnancy, and hearing about someone being taken advantage of in a workplace situation. Fairly normal for musical theatre, but jarring all the same.

I’m not sure that a nightmare scene followed by a beautiful solo dance number really do justice to the length of the redemptive journey Tony needs to make. Later, the agreement between Stephanie and Tony to tone down his sex drive and trial a platonic friendship is oddly accompanied by How Deep Is Your Love! But then the good old megamix kicks in and the show ends on a high.

Saturday Night Fever is a reminder how far society has moved on in the 45 years since the film was released. The plot thread involving a priest losing his faith retains its relevance and nearly deserves a post-show discussion on Sunday Sequence.

If you want to experience a high-kicking, high-energy production that will keep your foot tapping until the final curtain drops, you can catch Saturday Night Fever at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 24 September.

Photo credit: Paul Coltas

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic show, Really enjoyed it.