By Conor O’Neill
We, of a certain age, know what to expect with Saturday Night Fever: great tunes, classy dancing and a throw back to an age where everything seemed so innocent. My presumption when entering the packed Grand Opera House was a night of funky music, great tunes and excellent choreography. That and nothing more. Boy, was I wrong. Wrong and impressed. Oh, the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia!
All of the above is true of this show, but what got me most was the several back stories and themes delivered though the backdrop of funky music, brilliant dancing and well played and sung songs.
For those not in the know, here’s the general gist: Tony Manero (Jack Wilcox) is just a regular New Yorker, he works all day at a hardware store and gets paid a measly wage in a city where ‘400 buck buys you 300 bucks’. What he lives for is the weekend where he’s quite the legend on the dancefloor. Like a peacock showing his tail, the outfit and the hair are key.
He and his gang see nothing more than short-term jobs, conquests and live in a world where they treasure their mothers but see all women their own age as merely ‘nice or bitches’. A play like this couldn’t/wouldn’t be written in such a manner in today’s climate.
This is quite a muscular, testosterone piece of musical theatre. Most of the males are abrupt, strong willed and show little empathy or sympathy. The females on the other hand are submissive, abused and usually at the mercy of the men.
Except one. Enter Stephanie Mangano (Rebekah Bryant). She’s as able on the dancefloor as Tony yet shares none of his small-town mindset. Manhattan is the place for her as a typist and PA. She meets and greets the great and good of the time as she strives to make her way in the world.
with a dance competition with 1000 dollars as prize money in the next few weeks Tony ditches his former dance partner Annette (Billie Hardy) and seeks to swoon and dance with Stephanie.
It’s a big West End production but as it is it’s actually less pompous and excessive as most big travelling shows. The band led by Jeremy Wootton sit on two stalls to the left and right of our view. Five players all pickled into two tiny spaces. Yet for the five of them they make one hell of a groovy, funky racket. Keys, guitars, bass, drums and a couple of different horns has the crowd bouncing in their seats and gagging for the next hit.
And, of course, what would Saturday Night Fever be without the Bee Gees? The brothers Gibb played by Al Jenks, Drew Ferry and Oliver Thomson sing the sweet falsettos in complete harmony. The hits just keep coming. Staying Alive, Disco Inferno, Night Fever and You Should Be Dancing come along in sweet succession, and that’s just in the first act!
After an hour of such talent many of the audience are relieved to see the interval. Yet, unlike a lot of other musicals, all return for more. They’re all Having a ball. Director Bill Kenwright works magic with this piece. He and choreographer Bill Deamer have mapped out a brilliant, enthralling and at times rather touching musical.
In my memory this film/show was all about a dance competition, believe me there are so many layers, it goes from a music based hit parade to a play involving spousal abuse, climbing the social ladder, teen pregnancy, suicide, losses of faith, character maturity and so much more.
Put simply, you’ll groove your a*&e off and think hard at the same time.
Saturday Night Fever runs at the Grand Opera House up to and including Saturday, September 24th, 2022.
For booking details visit http://www.goh.co.uk or simply phone the box office on 02890 241919