The West End and UK tour cast of Saturday Night Fever debuted their disco moves and New York accents at Palace Theatre this week.
Scored by the Bee Gees, the 1998 jukebox musical is a stunning tribute to the 1977 film, based on the story by Nik Cohn and adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oakes.
The musical follows Italian-American Tony Manero (Jack Wilcox) as he navigates a dead-end job, a passion for disco, and strained family relationships in Brooklyn. His weekends are spent adulated by his peers at the discotheque, as he shows off his dance moves.
Wilcox’s performance was a convincing homage to John Travolta. A powerful stage presence, his talents are a force to be reckoned with, and he was very popular with the ladies in the audience, who whooped during on-stage costume changes.
Opposite Wilcox, frontwoman Rebekah Bryant (as Stephanie Mangano) was phenomenal, with a voice to match her acting and dancing capabilities. Her character and looks would make her the perfect casting choice for Dirty Dancing’s Penny Johnson.
Newcomer Harry Goodson-Bevan was commendable as Bobbie, and his professional debut is sure to be the start of a bright career on stage.
The dance numbers alone make the musical worth watching. From the Brooklyn shuffle to the hustle, the cast was always smooth and synchronized. Three Bee Gees lookalikes looked on from above the set. An LED dancefloor was reflected by a mirror at an angle, and disco balls across the venue scattered light upon the audience. In some scenes, Manhattan glittered in the background, highlighting the disparity between it and a deprived area of Brooklyn. The set aesthetics worked perfectly with the storyline and projected the same imagery as the film.
Though much of the storyline and choreography stay true to the film, some of the darker themes are subdued for a family audience – the undercurrents of racism and homophobia are omitted, as well as the prevalence of violence and drug use. The misogyny persists.
My only qualms about the musical were the same ones I’d had about the film, namely the tasteless sexist comments and recurring themes of rape culture. On both the stage and the screen, Tony slut-shames and objectifies Stephanie, ultimately making an unwanted advance on her. Annette, too, is the victim of assault at the hands of Tony’s Bay Ridge posse. Other offhand remarks include a dig about a woman’s stretch marks and reducing women to either “nice girls” or “bitches”.
‘More than a woman’ bears no weight if a woman means nothing at all.
I think the musical could be tweaked to accommodate modern sensibilities, but maybe I’m just touchy. Perhaps to truly capture the 70s disco zeitgeist, the dark patriarchal side of it needs to be included.
If the film is your jam then the musical definitely will be too, and this stellar ensemble cast does it justice.
Saturday Night Fever is playing at Palace Theatre Manchester from 27th September until 1st October and tours the UK until the end of November. You have three more chances to see the show in Manchester – why not be poetic and go on Saturday night? But no matter the show you visit, be prepared to catch a fever!