The stage version of Saturday Night Fever, based on the iconic film of the 70’s that captured the disco culture of a generation of young people and launched John Travolta on his path to Hollywood fame, has returned to London. The show originally premiered at the London Palladium in 1998 where it ran for almost two years.
Saturday Night Fever, directed and choreographed by Arlene Phillips, contains the most marginal of themes: the desire of young people to escape the monotomy of their Monday – Friday routine jobs by painting the town red at the weekend, and the difficulty of establishing one’s own identity, separate from the requirements of family and peer pressure.
The hero of the piece is Tony Manero, assistant in a paintshop during the week, strutting peacock of the dancing floor at the weekends. Admired sex god by the girls, alpha wolf to his pack of male friends, he grows increasingly disillusioned with life in Brooklyn until he finally decides to pull up roots and move to Manhattan.
For the story to work it needs a sexy, charismatic actor to play the role of Tony. Sadly, it is hard to believe that anyone would notice Stephane Anelli’s Tony enter the room. Rather than allure with his charm, he bores with his ordinariness and though able to dance, his movements lack passion. However, he sings well and gives a wonderful rendition of “More Than A Woman”, but his voice lacks the power to blast out some of the higher notes and he seems incapable of expressing any emotion.
This lack of authenticity runs throughout the individual performances, from the painfully grotesque performance of Shaun Williamson as DJ Monty to Zoe Ebsworth’s Stephanie Mangano, the lack-lustre goddess who wins Tony’s heart. Shaun Williamson prances about the stage bulging out of tight fitting clothes, butchering the song ‘Disco Inferno’. Zoe Ebsworth, is dull and lifeless, and apart from her blond hair, there is little reason to believe she would be every boys’ heart throb.
Kym Marsh performs better as Annette. She brings emotion to her songs and sings “If I Can’t Have You” and “To Love Somebody” as if her heart truly had been broken by Tony’s constant rejections.
Saturday Night Fever is one of those shows where the whole is better than the individual parts. Arlene Phillip’s choreography captures the 70’s disco dance phenomena, and the ensemble struut their stuff with vim and vigour. What a pity the acting lacks the same precision!
Although the production has many faults, the Bee Gee’s songs, “Staying Alive”, “Night Fever, “Tragedy” etc, along with the phenomenal dancing from the ensemble means this show is still a must for fans of the era.
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Tends to wilt and droop as if in need of a vitamin B12 injection...leaves me deflated." ELISABETH MAHONEY for THE GUARDIAN says, "Many..exuberant moments in the show...a sketchy plot at best ." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The dancing's hot, the acting's not." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "I wish the piece had more plot, more atmosphere, more bite...Still, those Spanish Americans bring style, sensuality and terrific fizz to their dancing" IAN SHUTTLEWORTH for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Delivers a bland, shiny 1990s facsimile of its 1970s subject matter."