REVIEW: Saturday Night Fever – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

1976, Brooklyn. Tony Manero, a 19 year old New Yorker with a dead-end job and an extraordinary talent, is desperate to see the world outside of his borough and the only way out is through dance.

This Theatre Royal Bath production of Saturday Night Fever is based of course, on the much-loved 1977 movie and is a complete re-working of the original 1998 London stage production. Now populated by a cast of actor/musicians, it sticks to the same gritty storyline as the film and the same classic disco tunes by The Bee Gees, but has been given a 21st Century refresh.

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Not your average stage musical fodder, the overall tone is brutal: dealing with themes of abortion, religion, class, poverty and aspiration and bravely tackling them all head on. The language is choice too: this is more the X-rated original movie version rather than the heavily edited PG re-release.

Fans of the original will be delighted to know that the familiar songs are here and in some cases  used surprisingly: thundering disco classic “Tragedy” becomes a heart-wrenching ballad, “How Deep is Your Love?” a poignant duet and “You Should Be Dancing” is given a Latin flare, it must be said though, that not all of these these new arrangements are successful, at times you can’t help wishing that they’d left well alone.

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Critical to the success of the piece though, is the casting of the central role of Tony Manero and Danny Bayne is an engaging (anti-) hero. In possession of an extremely fine voice and even finer dancing skills, he is very much carrying the weight of this production on his shoulders and deserves praise for holding the entire affair together, the commitment and energy he invests in his performance throughout is laudable.

Less successful is the decision to stage the piece with actor/musicians, whilst different, unexpected and fiscally shrewd, is more distracting and detracting. The strolling players add nothing to the atmosphere of the show, and their presence is just down-right incongruous in the disco scenes – you’d be hard pressed to find many musicians who just happen to be hanging around the local night club with a saxophone in their back pocket which they whip out at a moments notice: there are many things that might be getting whipped out in a sweaty club, but I’m pretty sure a trumpet isn’t one of them. The musical ensemble is brass-heavy too which doesn’t entirely sit well with disco tunes.

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The choreography by Andrew Wright is energetic and inventive, whilst retaining familiar elements from both the original movie and Arlene Phillips’ West End version: you’ll be glad to know that the iconic arm aloft, finger pointing stance is still here. Bayne’s prodigious talents as a dancer are well exploited too, with many numbers given a Latin flare – Bayne’s particular dance specialism. The energy and commitment levels are high throughout but the actor/musicians can’t compete on a skill level with Bayne and Naomi Slights (Stephanie) and often look a little ragged around the edges in comparison.

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The design by Simon Kenny is based around three, large, revolving cubes with a mix of add-ons and projected backdrops. Technically complex, the show had tiny blips throughout the evening: from uncooperative scenery to radio microphones not working and the first act suffered from serious under amplification, factors that will no doubt be ironed out as the run progresses and it hits its stride.

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Now more play with music than musical, it is more flushed than fevered: it is a brave attempt to re-work a well-known piece for a new audience and it deserves praise for that alone but there’s a feeling that it is just a little too relentlessly heavy in tone. It’s interesting to note that the moment when the audience finally come alive is the encore mega mix when they finally get their chance to get on their feet and join in.

Danny Bayne is the stand-out star of the show and if you only need one reason to go, then go and see him, he’s worth the admission price alone.

Runs until Sat 23 January 2015

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/saturday-night-fever-theatre-royal-glasgow/