Note: This review dates from November 1998 and the production's West End run at the Dominion Theatre. The cast for this production has changed since the writing of this review.
If John Travolta can mount a comeback, why can t the the vehicle which launched him? Riding the waves of the 70s revivalist movement, producer Robert Stigwood, who also produced the celluloid original 21 years ago, has brought Saturday Night Fever to the West End stage for its world premiere. Certainly, there was a strong air of nostalgic excitement - how often do you get clapping before the curtain rises? - amongst the now-graying audience. But it soon became obvious that this new version was missing a few vital ingredients.
Namely, the BeeGees. Few stage stars can carry off the Brothers Gibb distinctive falsetto sound; in this case, they don't even try. What we get instead is some liberal tampering with musical arrangements and disturbingly normal voices - producing poor imitations of those disco favourites. What works best are two new songs, "Immortality" and "First and Last", written especially for the show by the BeeGees.
Nan Knighton's adaptation follows the film closely in the tale of Tony Manero (Adam Garcia) whose weekly escape from working class drudgery is found Saturday night on the dance floor of Brooklyn's Odyssey 2001 nightclub. But it can t quite recapture the drama and claustrophobic desperation of the original. The interweaving story lines involving Tony s priest brother, his distraught friend Bobby C (Simon Grieff), and admirer Annette (Tara Wilkinson) never quite make an impact and are left baldly hanging at the end.
Andy Edwards costumes are incredibly evocative of the era as are director and choreographer Arlene Phillips' (formerly of 70s group Hot Gossip) dance routines. There's the lasso, the pointing pose, and more pelvic thrusts and hip swivels than you could shake a bell-bottom at. With the exception of a backlit subway and what could be the world's largest disco ball, Robin Wagner's set design is much less effective - and certainly not the quality you d expect of a major West End musical.
As for the performers, best cameo prize must go to Richard Calkin's Monty who epitomises gold-medallioned sleaze. Grieff wins for most touching performance, though he s not given enough time to fully develop it.
And what of the young Garcia - does he measure up to Travolta? Well, thankfully he doesn't ape his predecessor as so many performers in Grease have mistakenly tried to do. Garcia is an excellent dancer, though weaker vocally (but then Johnny never had to sing), and a full-grown heart-throb on his own account. The scene where he strips to the waist is one of the show's most exciting.
This revival may not induce prolonged fevers but Garcia - and those pelvic thrusts - will set more than a few temperatures racing, if only momentarily.