Saturday Night Fever
42 years ago the movie Saturday Night Fever became a global hit revitalising the career of Chorlton boys the Bee Gees and prolonging the mainstream appeal of disco. Tonight, Bill Kenwright’s revamped production hits the Palace Theatre stage bringing back the magic of some of the 70s’ most iconic songs.
Whilst Saturday Night Fever is known for its disco sound and impressive dancing, it is also an emotional story of street life and love, gang culture and friendship. From the Bobbie C’s desperate cry for help in Tragedy to the raw emotion of Immortality, the characters develop from dance floor stereotypes to people we care about. Richard Winsor is looking good as he takes on the role made famous by John Travolta – Tony Manero, King of the 2001 Odyssey 2001 dance floor, adored by girls and boys alike, strutting his stuff and grinding his hips to the beat of the tunes.
The open staging provides plenty of boogie space, and, whilst the band perform onstage, they are mainly hidden behind side drapes. Was there a brass player at this performance? We could hear them occasionally, but were completely hidden from view. Kenwright has stripped the production back to concentrate on the music and dancing. As a result, that’s what it becomes - a series of musical tableaux that are great to watch and sing along to, but have no substance. Random US accents and erratic acting result in 2D performances and emotionless characters.The company certainly gel as a dance troupe, but struggle to build any meaningful relationships with each other or the audience. This isn’t helped by a lack of singing by the cast. In an odd staging choice, the majority of songs are performed by 3 Bee Gees wannabees who clumsily walk on and off for each number, perched on a tower at the back of the set. The actors were clearly cast as dancers, not singers, with the ensemble appearing to mime to a backing track (or not bothering to open their mouths at all). The couple of moments where a lead character did have an opportunity to sing were lost by a sound balance that drowned out their voices with music and Bee Gee falsetto.
For a nostalgic, foot-tapping night out this production is on to a winner, but misses the mark with what should be an emotional story of New York youth culture.
By Garry Thomas-Lowde for Canal St Online.
Palace Theatre: January 22nd - 26th 2019;