BWW REVIEW: Fabulous Movement and Marcia Hines Are The Standouts Of Sydney's SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
Tuesday 2nd April 2019, 7pm, Lyric Theatre
The movie that helped make disco mainstream is given a 21st century musical theatre makeover with Karen Johnson Mortimer's Australian adaptation of Stéphane Jarny's original French adaptation of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. High on technology and sequins but thin on meaningful plot and likable characters, this is a great dance and music concert strung together with a cramped and convoluted storyline.
Featuring the music of The Bee Gees, John Badham's 1977 film was a commercial success and made its star John Travolta a household name. Capturing the essence of the 1970's disco culture, there are few that don't recognise at least a little of the music and the moves Nan Knighton, Arlene Philips, Paul Nichols and Robert Stigwood, who collectively wrote the Book, sought to capitalises on this with the stage musical but the plot that touches on family expectations, friendships, growing up, racial and migrant tensions, sexual violence, suicide and gang violence is squeezed in around the big dance numbers so as to diminish their impact leaving an, at times, confusing storyline. With just under musical numbers with fabulous choreography by Malik Le Nost and additional choreography by Mitchell Woodcock, the plot is shoehorned in between causing confusion and severe drops in energy.
Heavy use of technology in the form of LED backdrops to present scenes of Brooklyn brownstones, the 2001 Odyssey Discothèque, and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn is in stark contrast to the few traditional set pieces and real curtains that are used, making the work somewhat sterile and disconnected. William Roache's costuming for the dancers is fabulously flashy but there are anomalies with the accuracies of the era with Tony and his gang in relatively skinny jeans rather than the wide bottom pants of the age and some of the fittings look like they could use some tweaking from the costume department. The use of four singers (Bobby Fox, Nana Matapule, Paulini Curuenavuli and Natalie Conway) to provide the bulk of the vocals, with the only dramatic characters singing their own ballads being wannabe girlfriend Annette (Angelique Cassimatis) and best friend Bobby (Ryan Morgan) also separates the emotion of the music from the plot, particularly given that all of the characters bar possibly Annette, are not particularly likable as they have been written. The choice to present Tony's (Euan Doidge) Brooklyn New York Italian parents on a screen projection above the stage also breaks the connection between characters and the audience, even before considering the jarringly bad attempt at Brooklyn Italian accents by Denise Drysdale and Mark Mitchel who are far from convincing as being of Italian descent, coming across as Aussie Battlers from a rural farm.
The singing by the quartet of Fox, Matapule, Curuenavuli and Conway is solid but is still outshone when Marcia Hines provides her star quality to the dance competition. Hines outstrips everyone with her intimate understanding of the genre and ability to know where she can add extra flairs and flourishes whilst also exhibiting her eternal joy when she sings, as anyone who has seen her performances with Velvet and Pigalle will also recall. With serviceable dramatics with highlights from Cassimatis and Tim "Timomatic" Omaji as club owner Monty, the main focus of the evening is the dancing and music. Melanie Hawkins has a wonderful classical grace as the star dancer Stephanie, who Tony dumps Annette for in the hopes of winning the prize money. Stephen Perez, as Bobby's Ghost, whilst character placement is a little confusing, is powerful in his expression of the contemporary ballet which is a contrast to the disco. The ensemble of Jared Bryan Lachlan Dearing, Lauren Elton, Gaynor Hicks, Kiara McGowan, Coby Njoroge, Maddie Peat, Stephen Perez, Erica Stubbs, Lola Rose Thompson, Benjamin Turland, and Chris Van Doren are highly commended for their precise and energetic group numbers that with Hines' performing is the show's saving grace.
Whilst the storyline and dramatic scenes may stretch out and be a bit overwrought, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is worth seeing if you like Disco music and watching incredible dancing but do not expect any significant plot, resolution to the issues raised, or reframing for contemporary values.
Photos: Heidi Victoria