Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Grab your flares and your disco balls, because Saturday Night Fever is back in the UK six years after it last toured the country. This new production aims to maximise both the grit and joy of the musical, as well as show off its versatile cast to the max. By and large it succeeds in giving us an all-round entertaining night of theatre.
The introduction of actor-musicians is bold and impressive, and the multi-talented cast help to create energy on stage and make the transitions between dialogue and musical numbers more seamless. At times this is still a slightly awkward relationship, but the on-stage trumpeters, saxophonists and guitarists do a great job, particularly in the high-energy dance scenes.
There are already some tragic and disturbing elements to Saturday Night Fever – in the stories of Bobby and Annette – but this production also maximises the social problems of the time. Disco becomes an escape and a glittering distraction from unemployment, the wealth gap and the lack of opportunity for young people in this part of Brooklyn. The opening scene sets down the marker for this, with its pared-down but powerful rendition of ‘Staying Alive’. As the show continues, Alex Lodge lends the character of Bobby both comedy and pathos, with a stand-out performance of ‘Tragedy’ and a moving final outburst. The structure of the show neatly turns his story from comedy to tragedy before you’ve realised what’s happening.
Yet it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, and the dance numbers in particular bring sparkle to the stage. As Tony Manero, Danny Bayne is a hugely talented dancer – equally matched by sassy co-star Naomi Slights as Stephanie – and there is an enjoyable ease to their movement. Yet in the group numbers, as fun as they are, I wanted sharper attack in the moves, which are entertaining but could do with more focus and intensity to really set the stage alight. The choreography doesn’t fall too far into the clichés of Saturday Night Fever, which keeps it relatively fresh, although a little ‘guilty pleasure’ part of me did want to see a few more retro moves… Yet on the whole the disco lights, dancing and divas get the audience grinning and tapping their feet to a host of Bee Gees classics such as ‘Jive Talkin’’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’ and ‘Night Fever’.
Vocally this is a strong production, with stand-out performances from Alex Lodge and, above all, CiCi Howells as the unnamed nightclub singer. Bethany Linsdell (Annette) also excels, particularly in ‘If I Can’t Have You’; however she suffers from being a little over-miked, meaning her tone becomes rather harsh and unnatural-sounding. If this could be resolved she would truly shine in what is, remarkably, her professional debut.
Some of the scenes in between musical numbers can seem a little dry in Act I, but by the second half of the show the cast seem to have relaxed into their stride, and relationships between the characters become more confident and less forced. It’s a shame that the ending feels rather rushed, as it seems to cut off the production at its peak. However, there is a strong arc to the show that is kept interesting by the fact that you don’t particularly warm to either lead character at first – this creates a less predictable and more surprising development of the plot than a simple ‘boy meets girl’ tale.
Overall, the combination of actor-musicians and some fantastic dancing keeps this production alive. It lacks some of the slickness of the West End version of a few years back, but in many ways the slight roughness around the edges gives this a bit more humanity. With a dash of wit, a bit of heartbreak and a whole lot of funk, Saturday Night Fever manages to paper over any cracks and provide an energetic and big-hearted night out.
Saturday Night Fever toured the UK until April 2015. For more information, see the Saturday Night Fever website.