It’s about dance. It’s about the music. It’s about the motion. 'Saturday Night Fever The Musical' isn’t your standard musical. But you will get up and boogie into the night, long after the show has ended.
While 1977 is gone, the backstories of the time still stick: Working dead-end jobs that get you to each weekend to dance, dance, dance; that hopeless sense of wanting to escape but not being able to; searching for meaning and purpose on the dancefloor. The problems of the working class rarely change; it’s simply the setting that evolves.
With all the classic Bee Gees tracks set to an incredible band, the music was always going to be the champion in this adventure. Featuring the biggest little horn section in Sydney care of Simon Sweeney’s trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Taylor’s saxes and flute and Anthony Kable’s trombone, each textured disco-defining layer was superbly presented; from the deep basslines of Nick Sinclair to Glenn Wilson’s kit, Chris Wright’s guitars, Steve Marin’s percussion and Music Director Dave Skelton’s keys. This is as authentic as record producer Robert Stigwood intended disco to be felt: deeply penetrating and reverberating with real, live instruments. The lush soundtrack has stood the test of time some 40 years for a reason: because the music is well-written, wonderfully orchestrated and that damn good.
Fast-paced, aggressive and forceful, the storyline offers very little in the way of rises and dips; frenetically moving through the show with little chance to catch a breather. It’s an able reflection of the dance movement, but not ideal when the audience needs to feel when hopelessness is despairing or tragedy strikes. That’s far more an observation of the story rather than the production however; though that chance to ‘take a moment’ could go a long way in elevating the show.
The sets were minimal and incredibly orchestrated: the largest disco ball in the southern hemisphere reflected lights across the audience with the lighting design flickering between intense flares on the dancefloor, and deep overwhelming colours for passionate scenes while the revolving circular stage added wonderfully to all the theatrical layers. Lighting projections added an energetic element to the walls and stage for a genuinely four-dimensional experience, from authentic Brooklyn street scenes to the disco and every room in between; allowing for all the necessary space required with large-scale dance moves without all the fuss. The costumes aptly paid tribute to the time, with sequins, bellbottoms, big collars, pantsuits, Farrah Fawcett hair and afros setting the scene. There was no doubt that this was 'Saturday Night Fever' – we know how to do it.
Image © Heidi Victoria
The dance ensemble’s choreography was electric, flawlessly capturing all the ballroom movements that defined disco as a tight, energetic dance charge. Perhaps the lifts could be higher, the points more extended, the thrusts harder; but more time and performances under their belts will see the dancers push themselves to the very edge. The choreography was still exceptional and the enthusiasm conferred nevertheless, was boundless.
Ironically, while the story is very dude-focused, it was the dynamism of three women who served as scene stealers throughout the production. The impassioned performances of an ageless Marcia Hines as The Diva, Star Vocalist Natalie Conway and Angelique Cassimatis as Annette elevated the performance, stealing the spotlight from virtually every other actor – even leading lady Melanie Hawkins as Stephanie and a strutting Euan Doidge as anti-hero leading man Tony Monaro in his iconic tight black jocks and gold chain or classic white suited power stance. When a golden-clad Hines took to the stage, she brought a level of oomph and energy the show hadn’t quite reached. It wasn’t that the show was lacking in power or spirit; it was simply that Hines’ stamina and verve comes from incredibly weighty experience – let’s pause for a moment to reflect, it’s been 50 years since Harry M Miller and Jim Sharman lured a 16-year old Marcia down under. Such experience and vitality cannot be easily produced at the click of the fingers – this is stage maturity at its finest.
Certainly Doidge captured the machismo and arrogance of Tony Monaro, while Hawkins turned out a beautiful and vitreously aloof performance synonymous with Stephanie. It seemed as if their dancing upstaged their performances; all intricate moves were wonderfully executed while their vocals were excellent and all notes melodically hit and placed. The chemistry of ‘boy wants girl, girl wants better’ hit all the right places – perhaps too much to leave a lasting credible effect.
Australian TV legends Denise Drysdale and Mark Mitchell’s performances as Mama and Papa Monaro respectively were also superb, while Timomatic, Paulini, Bobby Fox and Nana Matpule in their roles added well to the cast.
'Saturday Night Fever' remains a genuflection before the altar of a time when the dancefloor ruled. It’s an incredible production that has plenty of time to settle into its very best. But it is the music that always has been, and always will be, the defining crown of glory.
'Saturday Night Fever' plays Sydney Lyric Theatre until 2 June.