Saturday Night Fever

Venue: Queen Elizabeth Theatre Dates: 21-26 January 2003

Director: Arelene Phillips OBE Choreographer: Arelene Phillips OBE
Musical Director: Phil Edwards Lighting Designer: Andrew Bridge

Reviewer: John Jane

Saturday Night Fever reverses the current trend of producing movies from stage musicals. This production essentially parallels John Badham's enormously popular cult film that catapulted John Travolta's movie career. The film version wasn't even very good. Even the Bee Gees' phenomenal music was never intentionally written to provide the soundtrack, but rather it was Robert Stigwood's combined interest in the group's management and the film's production that brought the two elements together. What made the film compelling was its portrayal of a ‘blue-collar' hero overcoming odds and realizing his dreams. Dancing and the Brooklyn bridge were simply metaphors representing life's challenges and the gateway to escape through.

Following a brief announcement dedicating the evening's performance to the late Maurice Gibb and a rapid-fire medley of Bee Gees hits, the curtain raises on the solitary figure of Ryan Ashley in the same struck pose as the disco dancer logo seen on the removed muslin screen. He is soon joined by the rest of the company in a well choreographed opening number "Stayin' Alive."

Ashley's Tony Manero does not possess the exaggerated cockiness nor the ‘mock Brando' charm of John Travolta's performance, and at times his voice is a bit suspect. However, he manages to pull off the lead with genuine zeal for the role and a dynamic stage presence. Throughout the show he works hard to develop a special connection with the audience.

He is very ably supported by his two co-stars, particularly Dena Digiacinto as the wistful Annette, who even bears an uncanny resemblance to Donna Pescow, the role's originator. Jennifer Mrozik also shines in the role of Stephanie Mangano, the street-wise chick with the delicate ego who gives Tony a much needed wake-up call. Both girls enthralled the house with their solo renditions of Bee Gee ballads.

Other individual standout performances are by Cameron Stevens as the tragic Bobby C, and Darren Lorenzo who provides comic relief as Monty. One has to sympathize with Brian Walker who appears too low key in the role of Tony's older brother, Frank Jr. The character seems out of place in an otherwise lively show; perhaps the subplot of Frank Jr's dilemma with his vocation should have been left out of the stage version.

Musical direction was great. Many of the songs were given a broader ABBA-like arrangement to better suit the stage and fitted seamlessly into the storyline.

The show's most memorable moment was the dance competition inside the 2001 Odyssey discotheque -- great choreography here. Ashley wearing the famous white suit may have looked more like Tony Manero than Travolta. The three best couples vying for the trophy, which was won and then rejected by Tony and Stephanie.

The show concluded with a touching duet "How deep is your Love" sung by Ashley and Ms. Mrozik. The finale saw the whole company come together in a frenetic dance routine with the audience being invited to get to their feet and join in.

Saturday Night Fever - The Musical is a lot more fun than the film that inspired it. This production doesn't even attempt to retain the original's grittiness or overt sexuality. It can, however, be enjoyed by just about everyone. I found it thoroughly energetic and entertaining from the first note to the last, and audience enthusiasm confirmed my take on things.

There is a sad irony in the recent premature passing of Maurice Gibb, exactly twenty-five years after the release of the album that provided the music enjoyed in the performance this evening. This show is perhaps a testament to his work's enduring quality.

© 2003, John Jane