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REVIEW: Saturday Night Fever – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It’s astonishing to think that Saturday Night Fever is over 40 years old. Bee Gee’s manager and producer Robert Stigwood’s gritty, 1977 movie, based on British journalist Nik Cohn’s 1976 New York magazine article ‘Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’ (later revealed to be pure fiction) has stayed in the public consciousness since then. It has even been declared “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry.

First appearing as a stage musical in the West End in 1998, it has undergone a myriad of incarnations since then, some less successful than others. This time it’s the turn of Bill Kenwright to tackle this seminal tale of the disco subculture.


Living at home with his parents and little sister, 19 year-old Bay Ridge boy Tony Manero (Robert Winsor), spends his days working in the local paint store and his nights escaping to the 2001 Odyssey disco. Eager to dig himself out of his dull life, he sets his sights on the $1000 prize in the local dance competition. Conflict arises with his friends and his potential dance partners: local girl Annette and the comparatively sophisticated Stephanie. Thrown into the plot are rape, abortion and suicide.

Unlike other productions, The Bee Gees (played by Ed Handoll, Alastair Hill & Matt Faull) appear onstage to provide musical accompaniment to the action, and do so phenomenally well, their vocals almost indistinguishable from the real thing. They are accompanied by a fine-sounding band, who are musically on-point throughout. Only a few of the characters in this ‘musical’ sing the songs that drive their character’s narrative: Tragedy by Bobby C (Raphael Pace) and If I Can’t Have You by the spurned Annette (Anna Campkin), and when they do it seems utterly incongruous. It feels as if it should be an ‘either/or’ choice, either a play with an accompanying soundtrack or a full blown musical. The soundtrack as it is delivered by the onstage band and vocalists is strong enough to eschew any need for the characters to burst into song.

The multi-level set is cleverly conceived and smoothly transitions from family home to paint store to local diner, to dance studio to the cacophony of colour at 2001 Odyssey, it is evocative and suitably evocative of the era. It beats the catastrophic 2014 actor/musician version that played out on an awful multicoloured cube strewn set, hands-down.


The cast work hard with the material they have, each is clearly giving their all. Richard Winsor as Tony has the most fully-formed character, with a beginning, development and end. Winsor’s acting is undoubtedly solid, as is his dancing. I can testify to Winsor’s dancing credentials, having seen him performing as part of Matthew Bourne’s company, and he is clearly a gifted ballet dancer, however, he looks uncomfortable with this loose disco style. He looks as if he is fighting between his classical training and the freedom of these moves. Less well rounded are those without fully developed and resolved stories: the spurned and sexually assaulted Annette and the tragic Bobby C, to name two, their story lines are introduced, then left to hang in the air with no satisfactory conclusion.

Bill Deamer’s choreography is lively, but as someone who has seen the original West End production, he has borrowed liberally from Arlene Phillips very memorable original choreography.

The writing is the production’s weakest link, with better material, this hard-working cast could have done so much more. Entertaining escapism, but there’s a lot of unfulfilled potential here.

Runs until Saturday 20 October 2018 at Glasgow King’s Theatre.

Images: Pamela Raith

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/