Saturday Night Fever, Theatre Review, Grand Opera House Belfast, October 1st, 2019
By Conor O’Neill
When you think of musicals it’s usually jazz hands, big dance numbers, the ensemble kicking its way and usually too hard to count and little of a tale to tell. Interestingly, John Badham, the 1977 film’s director states in the notes ‘If you took out all the musical numbers, it would play as a kind of companion piece to Mean Streets.’
Bill Kenwright, the director of this Westend import thankfully realises the wise words of his predecessor and while a cracking, live band funk its way through the legendary soundtrack with 20 actors plus another three playing the Bee Gees, morality tales of unwanted pregnancy, questioning the call of the Church’s collar, unemployment and getting out of a violent, gang infested ghetto, to name just a few, make this production far from your run-of-the-mill goodtime piece of musical theatre.
800 people make for a Grand Opera House at four fifths of a full house. Not that you would know it. At times the place is silent as Tony (Richard Winsor – Of Casualty and Holly Oaks fame) tries to resist the charms of Annette’s (Natasha Firth) charms at other, the three Bee Gees on the upper tier joined by the bank play funky disco nearly loud enough to break a hip. King of the 2001 Odyssey club’s dancefloor, Tony sees a way out of him humdrum day job of selling paint when a dance competition with a first prize of $1000 and the bragging rights of New York city.
Everything changes when the stunning, go-getting Stephanie Mangano, Manhattan wanna-be hits the 2001’s dancefloor. Not used to chasing Tony becomes the chaser. Trying his best Stephanie runs through his life like a shopping list, ending it with ‘You’re a cliché, Tony’.
Thankfully it’s not all about dancing and teenage testosterone. The blue eye of the family, Frank Jr (Phil Mennel) quits the priesthood, much to the heartache of his mother Flo’s (Melody E Jones). Heartache could be the by-line of her life. Hubby Frank Snr (Grant Neil) spent 25 years in the construction industry and now unemployed drifts into depression and alcoholism.
Outside the Manero household isn’t all fine and dandy either. Bobby C (Will Lucket) has his beau up the duff and being catholic an abortion is out of the question. The streets are a fine line of unemployment, boredom, drugs and gang fights. The Barracudas are to be feared, racism is rife. For the aficionados Saturday Night Fever started as a fictional article in the New York Magazine by immigrant Nik Cohn.
During the interval I was trying to work out whether I was enjoying the show; the great dancing was there, the plot was ticking along nicely but I hadn’t that ‘big moment’ yet. 10 minutes into the second act and all changed. Olivia Fines sings More Than A Woman and every penny of the ticket price was earned.
Most will have seen the movie, the songs are universal. Musical director Scott Alder and co. are pure professional. Choreographer Bill Deamer has 23 moving in unison and for the 70% of the audience of the female gender, and no doubt a few of the men who have an inkling of seeing Winsor in nothing more than his undies, you’ll be more than happy.
The curtain fell at 9.51 pm, each came out and bowed. 9.56 and we’re still on our feet as Saturday Night Fever and a medley of other Bee Gees floor-fillers have a happy theatre bouncing.
Saturday Night Fever runs until and including Saturday, October 5th with matinees Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There are plenty of group and other offer available too.
To book your tickets visit http://www.goh.co.uk or phone the box-office on 02890 241919