Following in the same vein as its captivating 1977 film starring John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever the musical shadows paint store clerk and dance fanatic Tony Manero, as he enters his local discos dance competition and convinces an energetic new partner to help him win.
Fixed firmly in the seventies, Manero’s philosophy of family, friends and living for the weekend has been morphed into a musical surrounded by the Bee Gee’s greatest hits. The edgy story promoting the intriguing disco nightlife presents all the fans favourite tracks in snappy succession and performed live by Bee Gee impersonators hovering above the action of the dance floor. Supported by fun-loving songs like Staying Alive, Tragedy and More Than a Woman the light-hearted backdrop of fashion, killer choreography and alluring music hides Monero’s uncompromising working-class reality. Tapping into the racist, sexist, drug-induced dance culture, nineteen-year-old Manero and friends highlight an inescapable pain of poor, working-class families.
Bill Kenwright’s production turns the Palace theatre into a club that shines its disco lights onto the crowd and makes the audience a part of the night scene. With one of the best-selling movie soundtracks of all time, seventeen songs lace the show, allowing characters to express themselves through the lyrics and the story to be taken into fantasy sequences that play out more of the hits. Unfortunately, Kenwright’s production has been heavily sanitised in comparison to the original 41-year-old film. What was originally a gritty look into the working class, Italian-American life is lost through its glossy staging and vague gestures. Underlining that the dance scene is not all glamour and glitz, the Palace theatre set by Gary MacCaan builds a multicoloured disco ballroom around its cast that unravels as our antihero goes about his daily routine. Stairs to nowhere, lowered backdrops and a dank family kitchen bring a drastic contrast to the glittering dance world, but too much of the story has been hollowed out with it.
Manero, played by the quick-footed Richard Windsor, carries the enduring crossover choreography by Olivier Award winner Bill Deamer to the stage. With an undeniably talented dancer at the helm, it is the atmosphere cultivated around the disco community and Manero’s singular worldview that makes this show entertaining. Winsor, who previously worked as a principal dancer for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, brings the desired energy to the old-fashioned role. Working the audience one step at a time, Manero benefits from his new dance partners experience, eager to better his own situation. Much of the chauvinistic and racist dialogue from the original has been cleaned up for a wider audience, but it leaves the characters beliefs blurred. Alongside apathetic friends, Monero’s bigoted worldview cannot be solved through dance alone. The production would have benefitted from a few revealing scenes that balance the sexual abuse and passive racist comments. With all the drama replayed through upbeat Bee Gee tracks and no real consequences to face, Monero’s character barely scratches the surface.
The sensationalised musical relies on its original 1979 film fans, failing to adjust for modern audiences. New members will struggle to identify with Monero as his transgressions are hastily forgotten and forgiven in an unsatisfying conclusion. Bringing the unsympathetic Monero to the stage with less time to explain his shallow choices, the production chooses to fall back on the hit films stupendous dance moves without making Monero’s unsettling backstory any easier to digest. Saturday Night Fever was about more than just the music but it’s not so modern remake may have forgotten its roots.