Ever since I saw the movie Airplane and its hysterical spoof of John Travolta’s white-suited disco shenanigans, I have been unable to watch the original with a straight face. I am pleased to report, however, that this did not mar my enjoyment of Arlene Phillips’s excellent revival of Saturday Night Fever designed for a national tour and based on the recent West End production.
In the movie, which is of course not a musical but a hard-edged drama, there are two central themes. The desire of all young people to escape from a life sentence of work and the difficulty that some men have in relating to women as friends and not simply sex facilitators. These themes are preserved in the show, but are somewhat diluted, so the dramatic scenes merely serve as a filler between the superb dance sequences, all of which are executed with considerable brilliance and flair by the 30 strong company.
Stephane Anelli does well enough as the lead, Tony Manero, and is a truly wonderful dancer. Tony is a directionless 19 year-old clerk, trapped by his job and devout mother (and her expectations), and living only for the weekend when he can strut his stuff on the disco dance floor. At the same time he shuns his girlfriend Annette (Jane Horn) for the upwardly mobile Stephanie (Zoe Smith), whom he partners in a dance competition.
Annelli, along with the subsidiary characters, works a little too hard at his nasal Brooklyn twang, at the expense of the book. However, Nan Knighton’s libretto is admirably spare and moves the action along at some speed, with the help of David Shield’s gantry-based setting, taking in not only the thrust of the film but also the tragic conclusion in which Tony’s friend, Bobbie C., overcome with worry about the child he has fathered out of wedlock, precariously scales the Verrazano Bridge. As Bobbie, Darren Carnell carves out a touching and believable character and his solo “Tragedy” is a real showstopper. Of the other performers, George Clayton as Monty the DJ and dance instructor, impresses and amuses, and Elia Lo Tauro and Helen Dixon dance up a storm in the disco competition.
In this version, it is the musical numbers that the audience have come to see and no one leaves disappointed. With a plethora of familiar Bee-Gee numbers (“Night Fever”, “More Than a Woman”, “How Deep is Your Love”) and a precision in the routines worthy of Fosse, this is undoubtedly Arlene Phillips’s night. Take your flares and point your finger to the skies…. “You Should be Dancing!”
- Stephen Gilchrist (Reviewed at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley)