Saturday Night Fever (tour - Manchester)
David Cunningham enjoys this current revival of the classic tale of Tony Manero and his penchant for dancing.
Although the soundtrack and dance sequences were vital elements in its success the film, Saturday Night Fever, was essentially a gritty drama.
This makes adaptation to the stage as a musical something of a challenge. Director Ryan McBride takes the ambitious approach of offering the audience the best of both worlds with surprising results.
Tony Manero (Danny Bayne) lives for the weekend when his dance abilities allow him to gain some of the respect that is lacking in his dead-end job. Desperate to win a dance competition Tony drops his usual partner Annette (Bethany Linsdell) in favour of the more stylish Stephanie (Naomi Slights). But Stephanie's plans for the future do not include Tony.
Like the lives of the characters the adaptation by Robert Stigwood and Bill Oakes is divided into two distinct parts – the bright disco offering a fantasy refuge against a bleak hostile environment. In the disco the original songs from the movie soundtrack are sung live, and in the funky disco style, by leather-lunged multi-instrumentalist CiCi Howells.
In the outside world, however, the tunes are adapted to suit a harsher, less forgiving, environment. An acoustic guitar turns Jive Talkin' into a protest song, "Tragedy" becomes a power ballad, while "How Deep is Your Love?" is the show's big duet.
This is a daring move that risks alienating audiences who have grown complacent due to jukebox musicals that simply provide exact copies of familiar songs. The revisions bring depth to songs that are usually perceived as being as shallow as a puddle. The line 'waiting for my life to begin' becomes the theme for the musical.
Simon Kenny's ingenious set, comprising three cubes that revolve to become the disco or graffiti-stained buildings, allows the type of rapid scene changes vital to ensuring the pace of the musical. Conscious that the iconic neon-lit disco flooring from the movie would not be visible in the theatre, Kenny replicates the design on the walls.
The choreography by Andrew Wright features all of the classic moves - legs cocked and arms pointing away from each other, and finger pointing - which have become so familiar over the years. The final dance duet between Bayne and Slights is a real showstopper. There is, however, a realistic edge of desperation coming from the dancers each copying the same move as if frantic to be part of the crowd.
Danny Bayne is an excellent dancer and his frenzied interpretation of "You Should be Dancing" that ends Act One has real anger. He does, however, seem eager to please, which makes him an unlikely hard man and his tattoos are out of place for the 1970s.
The show also features a number of actors making their professional debut. Bethany Linsdell is the stand out with excellent vocals and a deep longing underlying her performance.
The imaginative approach of McBride takes the show past the big dance-off, where most musicals would call it a day, towards a darker conclusion.
The result gets a muted response from the audience who only rise to their feet for the more traditional encore of hits from the show. But then if the director is willing to take chances it has to be accepted that not everyone will be content with this, as much I was.
If you want the grit of the film and hits you remember and some very fine dance moves, you'll love it.
Saturday Night Fever is at Manchester's Opera House until 29 November.