Saturday Night Fever, on at Gold Reef City’s Lyric Theatre in Joburg, is a high energy tribute to the music and dance of the 1970’s – based on the 1977 hit movie of the same name starring John Travolta.
The film, along with its best-selling and Grammy-Award-winning soundtrack by the Bee Gees, helped spread and popularise disco music around the world and have become part of our popular culture lexicon.
With its stellar pedigree – and trading in on the nostalgia of 70’s survivors and the regurgitation of retro culture among younger audiences – Saturday Night Fever has all the elements to become a classic theatre musical. This, however, proves not to be the case.
Saturday Night Fever’s most significant and glaring weakness is the adaptation of the storyline to the stage by writer and lyricist Nan Knighton, even thought it often uses many lines of dialogue directly from the film.
The stage version has lost the film’s New York working-class edge and sexual energy; it’s been castrated into a family-friendly Disney-style production.
While we cared for Travolta’s dance floor king, Tony Manero, on celluloid (despite his weaknesses), the stage version is an anaemic excuse for a character. Disastrously, there is also no tension in the plot; we aren’t made to feel as if there is anything at stake in Tony winning the coveted dance competition at 2001 Odyssey nightclub.
Without any kind of narrative tension, the story ambles along without much drama to involve us. We ultimately fail to feel for Tony’s struggle to make something of his life. Even a suicide in the second act doesn’t emotionally move the audience to any great degree.
Where Saturday Night Fever succeeds is in its energetic dance and song numbers. It’s clear that the show is directed by a choreographer, Britain’s award winning Arlene Phillips (although she sadly brings much less energy to directing the plot.)
Fuelled by a plethora of infectiously groovy Bee Gee songs – such as Staying Alive, Night Fever, More Than A Woman and Jive Talking – the 30-strong cast-members throw themselves into fantastic dance routines. You’ll be proud of the astonishing local talent on stage.
So dynamic and powerful are these musical sequences that the audience faces boredom once confronted with the speaking segments of the show. A consequence of using existing songs not intended for a musical in a show is that they often don’t help drive the story – this instead happens in the tedious spoken breaks between musical numbers.
Saturday Night Fever, which first premiered in London’s West End in 1998, is not so much a true stage musical, as it is a musical tribute show interspersed with feeble narrative scenes to string it all together.
Although lead Ferdinand Gernandt as Tony lacks Travolta’s charisma, he can’t be faulted for his moves and singing (live, despite the rigorous dance routines). He is an impressively fit performer and might even put the likes of Madonna to shame on stage.
As the dance instructor and DJ, Monty, self-proclaimed television soap-slut Terence Bridgett returns to the stage – and triumphantly so. He steals the show with his performance of Disco Inferno. He has a great voice, keeps up with the dance moves, and oozes audience-appealing personality and wit.
The set, with backdrops of New York and the Manhattan skyline, has been shipped in from London, and boasts a spectacular nightclub and giant mirror ball. It all looks fantastic, from the world-class lighting to the costumes.
While Saturday Night Fever ultimately fails miserably as a truly memorable stage musical, largely thanks to its weak adaptation, it’s nevertheless an entertaining and well-produced show that will have you on your feet dancing with the rest of the audience during the encore.
Saturday Night Fever is on at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City. Tickets available from www.computicket.com.