Saturday Night Fever starts with an explosive version of Stayin’ Alive – all disco dancing and singing – at the end of which Tony Manero (Euan Doidge) appears carrying a can of paint.
Until his appearance, I wasn’t sure there was going to be a story to accompany the jukebox musical feel.
The movie isn’t one of my favourites, although the theme is good and gives a very real picture of 1976 Brooklyn, very dark and somewhat depressing. There is a grittiness which doesn’t lift for the entirety of the film.
In the current musical version, there is a good deal more hope and heart, and while the story closely follows the film, the result is very different and far more enjoyable.
Doidge is a great Manero, embodying the cocky Italian-American from Brooklyn. He’s working in a dead-end job at the local hardware shop, living at home with his parents, and putting all his passion into dancing at the Odyssey Nightclub on the weekends. His friends are like him, they hang in a pack, and they treat women like objects although in this updated version, it’s a little better than in the original 1977 film.
The musical features the action of the story spliced with singers and dancers doing the big disco numbers. Leading the four singers is Bobby Fox, who originated the role of Frankie Valli in the first Australian production of Jersey Boys (playing it 850 times), and who most recently appeared in Assassins at the Hayes. His voice is sweet and high – almost like a real Bee Gee. Other singers include Paulini who unarguably has a powerful voice as she proved so well in The Bodyguard, Nana Matapule who most recently featured as one of the four Drifters in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, and the impressive Natalie Conway, who has been on stage with Olivia Newton-John, Human Nature, Tina Arena and Guy Sebastian, and makes her stage musical debut here.
Saturday Night Fever is all about the dancing. The singing is great, but for me, the dancing is what sets the 70s alight. The moves are well choreographed and executed, there are modern twists with some gymnastic moves, but the group dances as one and it’s fabulous to see.
Timomatic plays Monty, the DJ who runs the disco. His fabulous ’fro and gangster afghan coat are perfect for the role. He’s the coolest dude on stage and he is the one who sets up the main action of the show – the dance competition worth $500 – enough to give the winners an opportunity to change their life. As King of the Disco, Manero sets about working on a dance to secure the prize.
Annette, played by the amazing Angelique Cassimatis (Little Shop of Horrors, and Mack and Mabel), is in love with Tony and is trying to be his girlfriend. He just wants a dance partner and agrees to dance with Annette as long as she doesn’t think this means they are in a relationship.
Not totally focused on dancing, Annette is soon replaced by a far superior dance partner Stephanie, played by Melanie Hawkins. Watching Hawkins dance is a treat, and she and Manero make a mesmerising onstage couple.
Stephanie is in the process of leaving Brooklyn and her old life to start again in Manhattan. Tony is seduced by her confidence and rejection of him and his way of life. He sees in her a future for himself, whether it is with her or just through her inspiration.
On one hand, there is the lightness of the disco and its ability to create a world of its own, yet, on the other hand, there are issues of the time which include teenage pregnancy, suicide, gang wars, and rape.
The music is infectious, and the disco beat makes it very difficult to sit still in one’s seat. When Marcia Hines takes the stage, it becomes almost impossible.
Classic disco numbers include You Should Be Dancing, Night Fever, Jive Talking, Boogie Shoes, Stayin’ Alive, and Disco Inferno. Other numbers from the original soundtrack including How Deep is Your Love, If I can’t have you, and More than a Woman.
The Bee Gees’ sublime musical – and my favourite album of all time – is given another four Bee Gees hits. Added were Nights on Broadway, What Kind of Fool, Immortality, and Tragedy all making appearances in the musical. Nights on Broadway was an OK fit, though the others were not necessary. Tragedy, although sung competently by Ryan Morgan as Bobby, was distracting to me because it’s such a Bee Gees classic that being done in a different way took my focus away from the message that the song was given to the different interpretation of the music.
That said, I’m not completely a purist on the original album. Queen of Disco Marcia Hines, playing the Diva, Estella, contributes two of her biggest hits which fit spectacularly well into the musical – You, and Your Love Still Brings me to My Knees.
The look of the musical is kitsch and the outfits are colourful and full of sequins, skin, wrap skirts, tight tops and bellbottoms.
Film projected onto the sets brings a Brooklyn Bridge, street scenes and the bright pulsating discotheque lights. It is a clever way of staging. The set also projects Manero’s parents (Mark Mitchell and Denise Drysdale) onto a back screen rather than showing them live. They inject the humour of parents into the play while remaining true to their “Brooklyn Italian” roots.
The musical is a lot of fun and yet not just froth. If you like 70s music, disco and dancing then this is the show for you, and if you are a Marcia fan you will particularly love this. I know I’m biased as a fan of the album but I’m not alone there – the 1977 album sold over 45 million copies worldwide.