There can be few soundtracks better known than the one the Bee Gees wrote for the 1977 smash hit film Saturday Night Fever, a musical delight for any Disco fan: we know all the words, all the delicious harmonies and many of the dance moves, even if we can’t actually execute them. John Travolta’s white suit, tight at the crotch and ass and flared at the leg, is legendary in a look he perfected with his contrasting black silky hair and shirt. Ooh …
He’s a hard act to follow that young Travolta, who plays New York heart-throb and people’s hero, Tony Manero, a boy of Italian stock growing up on the streets of Brooklyn with a dead end job that is instantly forgotten when his dancing feet touch the multi-coloured tiles of the disco floor down at 2001 Odyssey (a real club in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge). Then he becomes a superstar in his own barrio, adored by men and women alike.
Bill Kenwright’s production of Saturday Night Fever has been adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood, the producer of the original film, in collaboration with Bill Ookes. Most of the singing is left to the Bee Gees (played with gusto and cheese by Edward Handoll, Alastair Hill and Matt Faull), who stand high above the stage/dance floor, matching the original album cover, leaving the cast to get on with the important stuff, ie the dancing! There is a story to this – it’s easy to follow and mainly revolves around everyday relationships and trying to fit in. Tony is not alone in his machismo attitude to women; the story is only dated in that times have thankfully moved on and societal misogyny is no longer acceptable – but that’s fine, this is set in the 70s and that’s how it was. What is less understandable and highly uncomfortable is the absence of black dancers and actors on the stage: lack of inclusivity in 1977 Hollywood is one discussion we could have but why is it still going on in 2018 UK theatre? This is set in Brooklyn in the 70s so where are all the African Americans?! Surely a perfect opportunity to improve inclusivity is being ignored?
That’s my only gripe really. Well, that and the trousers aren’t tight enough. This is a fun show that includes all the hits with time-tested music that keeps on flowing: we’re never left to sit here long without a song and a sexy twirl or a hip trust. Let’s face it, you’re only going to see this show if you’re a fan of the soundtrack or film or both and, in that respect, this ticks all the boxes – you’ll be singing right to your front door.
Richard Winsor is a likeable Tony and his ballet training really comes into its own, particularly in the poignant ‘Immortality’, just after that horrific bridge scene. Winsor is a dancer for sure. Not that I’m watching him all the time because I find it difficult to take my eyes off Faizal Jaye’s DJ Monty, up there strutting his stuff, getting his funk on in his booth above the dance floor. His moves seem effortless and he is a joy to ogle.
Saturday Night Fever is full of colour – the dance floor worthy of Pulp’s Disco 2000 and the disco balls at times sparkling around every inch of the auditorium (lighting by Nick Richings – thanks for that). Choreographer Bill Deamer has the entire cast bumping, strutting and sliding to the numbers we know so well and our trio of Gibb brothers reach their notes with all the harmony that these songs demand.
A Saturday Night Fever fan for 40 years, I left the Hipp on a high, forever in love with DISCO.
Saturday Night Fever plays at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 6th October
Image by Pamela Raith Photography