Saturday Night Fever

November 2, 2022 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆    Fever dream

Playhouse: Tues 1 Nov – Sat 5 Nov
Review by Martin Gray

It’s back to the Seventies at the Playhouse this week, as the venue becomes a disco for a dose of Saturday Night Fever ever night until Saturday.

Well, you can tell by the way he uses his walk that Tony Manero’s is a woman’s man, no time to talk. Oh boy, does the hero of this jukebox musical directed by theatre legend Bill Kenwright use his walk when we first meet him.

Jack Wilcox and the Cast of Saturday Night Fever. Pic Paul Coltas

Tony, as played by Jack Wilcox, is so self-conscious he moves like a Thunderbirds puppet. Still, it’s a case of giving the audience what they want – strut, swagger and loads of big dance routines, all to the music of the Bee Gees.

In a surreal touch the legendary Gibb brothers appear throughout – not to the characters, but to the audience as a heavenly chorus over the stage. It’s a tad surreal as concepts go and decidedly wonky, but it works.

AJ Jenks, Oliver Thomson and Drew Ferry do a fantastic job as Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. Or perhaps it’s Robin, Maurice and Barry. Some permutation anyway, who can tell behind the period-perfect wigs and beards?

fast-moving

Sometimes they’re giving us the music that Tony and pals are dancing to at the local disco, occasionally cast members sing the likes of If I Can’t Have You and More Than a Woman. You’ll likely not remember who sang what after this fast-moving production hits the main plot points of the 1977 film, watering down some some of the thoroughly objectionable elements.

So here’s Tony (Wilcox), working in a paint store by day and hitting the disco by night. His dad’s a deadbeat, his mom sees him as second best to big brother Frank Jr, the priest, and his sister seems not to exist except when she’s joining in suppertime spats.

Jack Wilcox (Tony) and Rebekah Bryant (Stephanie) in Saturday Night Fever. Pic: Paul Coltas

Dancing is Tony’s release and when a $1000 contest is announced he agrees to train with pal Annette (Billie Hardy). She’s more into Tony than working on a routine, so when he meets dancing queen Stephanie (Rebekah Bryant), Annette is out.

Annette’s not the only one vying for Tony’s attention – pal Bobby C has got his girl in trouble and needs a constant shoulder to cry on.

Bobby’s subplot makes for a bit of over-dramatic business in Act 2, but it does give Harry Goodson-Bevan motivation to give us his Tragedy. More successful is Frank Jr’s struggle with his faith, thanks to some fine acting by Marios Nicolaides.

underwritten

Annette, meanwhile, is basically raped by one of Tony’s mates, causing our hero, while trying to comfort her, to tell her to have some self-respect.

That she’s apparently been taken advantage of while on a five-minute spiral of depression involving pills – the subplot is shockingly underwritten – doesn’t bother Tony. In his mind females are either nice girls or bitches (the language of the film is understandably fudged here, but this is still recommended for ages 14+).

Jack Wilcox (Tony) and Rebekah Bryant (Stephanie) in Saturday Night Fever. Pic: Paul Coltas

By close of play, thanks to upwardly mobile but vulnerable Stephanie, Tony is starting to grow, but don’t go to Saturday Night Fever for gender politics.

Go for the music, which is terrific under MD Jeremy Wootton, and the dancing of choreographer Bill Deamer.

Wilcox leads the cast with convincing John Travolta charisma in number after number… Even if stage musical tradition means that in several routines everyone is equally adept at doing the steps as Tony, leaving you to wonder why he’s the greatest dancer. Ofttimes it’s club DJ Monty (Faizal Jaye) you can’t take your eyes off – he’s one step removed from everyone else in his ‘booth’ above and to the side, making it seem he’s the soloist.

vibe

DJ Monty also gets a couple of numbers, and Jaye is rather excellent. Tony, meanwhile, sings along with the ensemble, but doesn’t have a spotlight number… it’s in a bit of balletic business that Wilcox gets to show off what he can do.

Bryant makes an elegant partner in the training and contest sequences, and has the best spotlight number of the night with What Kind of Fool – which wasn’t in the film, being a Barbra Streisand duet with Barry Gibb a few years later, but the vibe is perfect for the moment.

If you treat it as a homage to the music of the Bee Gees and a bit of a dance party, and can ignore the problematic period attitudes, Saturday Night Fever makes for a good night out, any night of the week.

Running time: two hours and 45 mins (including one interval).
Playhouse, 18-22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2022
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Thurs & Sat 2.30pm.
Recommended for ages 14+
Tickets and details: book here.

The Cast of Saturday Night Fever. Pic: Paul Coltas

ENDS

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