THEATRE REVIEW: Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever tour
Saturday Night Fever tour

The stage musical adaptation of Saturday Night Fever is back on tour and last night (Tuesday) it rolled into Milton Keynes much to the delight of the new city’s theatre audience, writes Alan Wooding.

With a string of hits already under their belts, the Bee Gees took the dance scene to a whole new level on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to the 1977 film starring a youthful John Travolta.

Saturday Night Fever certainly made a huge impression on all who saw it and the updated stage version adapted by Robert Stigwood and Bill Oakes thankfully still features those legendary numbers from Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb although they have been reworked so much that many are hardly recognisable

Having original opened in London in 1988, Saturday Night Fever is again set in 1976 New York where 19-year-old paint shop assistant and wannabe dance star Tony Manero is stuck in a dead end job in his native Brooklyn.

Danny Bayne takes on the role of Tony, the talented 25-year-old from Surrey certainly being no stranger to a John Travolta role.

He’s already played the part of Tony Manero while touring the USA and he was also cast as Danny Zuko in the West End production of ‘Grease’ (Travolta’s other massive film hit) at the Piccadilly Theatre. Besides that, Danny was also the winner of Simon Cowell’s ITV hit show ‘Grease is the Word’ which also went on a UK tour.

Saturday Night Fever is without doubt one of the most highly-rated, high-octane dance stories and this particular production is far removed from being just another disco musical.

Director Ryan McBryde has turned what is really a rather sketchy plot into a gritty, hard-hitting New York street drama that is both different and innovative.

On Saturday evenings, our hero Tony pulls on his flares and heads to the local Brooklyn dancehall where he creates a stir and wows the onlookers with his fabulous sexy dance routines.

He is infatuated by Annette (Bethany Linsdell) who wants to dance with him but when he spots Stephanie (Naomi Slights) – whose only plan is a move from Brooklyn to Manhatten – his dreams of fame and fortune in a wider world are hatched and the pair get together and train hard ahead of a $500 prize dance competition.

It’s certainly not your average stage show as it tackles several themes head on – class, abortion, poverty, religion and finally a suicide off the Brooklyn bridge – while sadly the language on stage is certainly far more X-rated than in the original film which was aimed at family viewing.

One thing from the original film that does remain the same are the lyrics to the Bee Gees songs … but be warned as they all have a melody twist.

‘Tragedy’ was once a massive disco hit but it’s now a heart-wrenching ballad while ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ is played out as a classy duet. As for ‘You Should Be Dancing’, it now has a Latin flavour and while the arrangements fit the storyline, I felt that many among the Milton Keynes audience would rather have heard the familiar versions.

Danny Bayne is brilliant as the key character Tony. He has a great singing voice – his version of ‘Immortality’ is a real cracker – but even better was his high-energy dance skills.

In fact he holds the whole show together and thank goodness for that ‘arm aloft with finger pointing’ stance … after all, it’s the most iconic move in the whole musical!

Equally talented is Naomi Slights as his dance partner Stephanie while my favourite number has to be ‘How Deep Is Your Love’. She sings it as a duet with Tony although we are are also treated to the likes of ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Night Fever ‘and ‘Jive Talking’ among others.

With sidekicks Double J (Llandyll Gove), Joey (Rory Phelan) and Bobby C (Alex Lodge), Tony gets into all sorts of scraps.

There’s a well choreographed fight sequence and plenty of arguments in the family home with his often drunk father Frank Snr (Mike Lord) while his bother Frank Jnr (Matthew Quinn) renounces the priesthood which upset his religious mother.

But rather than me retelling the Saturday Night Fever story and describing Tony and Stephanie’s quest for dance domination, I must reveal that they meet their match of the dance floor as Cesar (Michael Stewart) and Maria (Alicia Marie Blake) steal their thunder.

The show features a talented cast of actors/musicians who play live on stage even though saxophones and trumpets were hardly the sort of instruments that the Bee Gees had in mind when they penned the songs!

Andrew Wright’s choreography is both inventive and energetic with Bayne and Slights outstanding in their interpretation.

Meanwhile Simon Kenny’s stage design is based around three large, revolving cubes featuring a projected backdrop … and it’s really quite ingenious.

Strangely the audience never really gets into their stride and as the storyline itself ends far too abruptly, the saving grace is the encore of a high-energy disco megamix.

At least that allows the audience to finally get on their feet and bogie along … so who thought disco was dead?

> Saturday Night Fever plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (28 February) at 7.30pm nightly with matinees at 2.30pm today (Wednesday) and on Saturday. Tickets are priced from £10 to £33 when booking in person at Milton Keynes Theatre Box Office.

Full details online or over the phone (call 0844 871 7652) – visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes and remember that booking fees apply.