Saturday Night Fever
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
It is 1979, Brooklyn, New York. Tony Manero is stuck in a dead end 9-5 job and lives for the weekend where he becomes the disco king at his local club, Odyssey. He meets aspiring social climber Stephanie, they train together to win a dance competition, and their lives change forever in the process.
Including drugs, suicide and rape, this is not your average jukebox musical. Its hard hitting themes certainly make it more gritty in context, and because of this the characters have depth unlike most jukeboxes, which is refreshing: all credit to director Ryan McBryde and his team for retaining the grit of the original. But sometimes it gets caught between the fluffy, glittery jukebox and a more serious drama, it is neither one nor the other and suffers for that.
Like many touring productions these days, the instruments are played on stage. Although effective in areas at lending to the mood it does become distracting in the disco numbers, it limits the flair that the dance routines in the disco scenes should have: more dynamism really is needed. The famous Bee Gees numbers are stripped back and used to reflect the action on stage: a bold move which aids the drama, but does have the unfortunate effect of alienating an audience who have come to hear the famous songs.
The set, consisting of three revolving cubes, is excellently designed. They become the club, freight crates and everything in between by using a clever projection system. The choreography from Andrew Wright is inventive and in places quite amazing, and of course the expected finger pointing is included – however he would have benefited from a full ensemble of dancers rather than just musicians, who cope amiably but are no substitute for the real thing, especially with instruments in hand.
Danny Bayne – as Tony – gives a great performance, never letting the energy drop. His dancing is slick and he captures the rugged charm of the hoodlum-come-disco-dancer. His sense of rhythm and finesse would make him an excellent Latin dancer and he excels in the moments when his hips come into play. Naomi Slights is equally impressive as Stephanie. She gets to grips with the character’s past and explores the vulnerability well, and her singing and dancing are sublime. Both Bethany Linsdell and Alex Lodge, graduates from the 2014 Arts Educational year, perform very capably in their professional début as Annette and Bobby respectively.
Saturday Night Fever is almost – very nearly – quite good. A brave and thoughtful interpretation that is refreshing – if not marginally unrefined – but perhaps adapting a film in this way is never going to produce a completely rounded piece of theatre. However it shows that jukebox musicals can have a plot and deep characters given some thought, and that they can be more than just a cheap thrill but Saturday Night Fever never really completely pulls us in or makes us dance.