A musical adaptation of an iconic movie struts into London for a limited season as Saturday Night Fever settles into the Peacock Theatre. Another kind of fever delayed the official opening though as Covid meant it was delayed twice. I finally got to check it out last night to see if Saturday night fever could be recreated on a Wednesday night.
Adapted from the iconic 1977 film starring John Travolta, this is the third West End outing for the musical version following its debut in 1998 and its revival in 2004. Building on the films soundtrack, the songs are predominantly numbers made famous from the Bee Gees which play along the story of Tony Manero and his love of dance.
Richard Winsor leads the production as Tony. A celebrated dancer, he commands the stage with his performances, filling every inch of it with charisma. Oliva Fines plays Stephanie Mangano, Tony's dance partner and love interest in the show. She is an absolute standout demonstrating incredible dance skills and a stunning singing voice in the one number she gets to perform, 'What Kind Of Fool'. The pair exhibit great chemistry though their complicated relationship never seems to reach its full potential.
As a whole, the cast ensure the talent leaps off the stage. Highlights include Kevin O'Dwyer who is understated as he has the biggest character journey as Bobby C, Jasmin Colangelo as the unlucky in love Annette and Paul French as Double J. When the cast come together to perform the incredible group numbers, it is undoubtedly when the show is at its best.
A show like Saturday Night Fever requires high quality dancing and there is no shortage of that here. Directed by Bill Kenright with choreography from Bill Deamer, the dance sequences are exquisite, with a solo number from Richard Winsor to 'Immortality' proving a standout. Fantastic set design from Gary McCann ensure the stage comes alive, with the genius use of a mirror tilted to reflect the dancefloor being an especially inspired touch. Great lighting design from Nick Richings transforms the Peacock theatre into a 1970s disco while video design from Nina Dunn helps set the scene with some gorgeous backdrops.
The majority of the songs are performed by Jake Byrom, James Hudson, and Oliver Thomson, dressed like the Bee Gees and standing on a platform above the stage. While their constant walking on and off to the same spot may get repetitive, there is no denying how amazing they are at recreating classic songs including 'Stayin' Alive', 'How Deep Is Your Love', 'You Should Be Dancing' and 'More Than A Woman'. With a relentless number of hits performed back to back, this is a jukebox musical where the feelgood factor is pushed to its maximum. A handful of numbers are performed by the cast, breaking up what can be quite a monotonous approach - Jasmin Colangelo delivers a fantastic 'If I Can't Have You' while Kevin O'Dwyer attempts to turn 'Tragedy' into something more serious... even if the audience were resisting the urge to burst into their finest Steps moves during it.
To compare this show to another movie adaptation currently residing in the West End, Saturday Night Fever gets right all the elements that Dirty Dancing got wrong. Similar in the vein that the majority of the songs aren't sung by the main cast members, what sets this show apart is blurring the lines to allow cast members to perform in some numbers. Add to that a more elaborate set design (that actually fits the stage) means this is the one to see if you are picking between dance heavy movie musicals.
Not every element quite hits the mark in Saturday Night Fever. Some of the acting is questionable, scenes that are supposed to be heavy hitting including a tragic moment in the show never quite land with the emotional gut punch they should, and a fight scene between rival gangs is jarring in the way it seems to be inserted out of nowhere, evoking comparisons to West Side Story but feeling completely unnecessary. The language Tony uses to describe women is uncomfortable in how misogynistic it is, and while the women do stand up for themselves, it feels like a missed opportunity to play out these dated themes to drive home an important message.
While it isn't perfect by a long shot, the dancing, the staging and the quality of those classic songs ensure even the coldest hearted person will leave with a smile on their face. Ultimately, Saturday Night Fever does exactly what it sets out to do - give the audience a fun night out and ensure you should be dancing by the end of it.
Saturday Night Fever plays at the Peacock Theatre until March 26th. Tickets from https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/saturday-night-fever/
Photos by Paul Coltas