By Carly Fisher
Let’s be frank – If you headed into Sydney’s Lyric theatre for Saturday Night Fever expecting much of a story or musical theatre in general, you were heading in with wildly misplaced expectations. Walk in ready to enjoy exceptionally well-executed dance numbers and lots (and lots) of sparkles, and you were certainly on the right track.
The success of this show lies in the dance. Malik Le Nost’s choreography (assisted by Mitchell Woodcock for the Australian production) is electric – it is fast paced, hard hitting, periodically relevant and yet current and fun. The insanely hard-working Ensemble of dancers perform over 25 routines – very few of them are not high energy, up-tempo pieces – and hit every single mark with precision and specificity. These dancers are the best at what they do and, as many of them would not normally find themselves on a musical theatre stage, it was wonderful to indulge in their talent.
Unfortunately, for as strong as the dancing was, the rest of the show paled in its shadow. In the many musicals I have been fortunate to see, this was certainly the first time I have seen a show where they have taken a cast worth of triple-threats and asked them all to reduce their abilities to just one of these three streams – in this show, you either sang, danced or acted but rarely did a performer do more than one. Knowing the talents on that stage from other shows, I found this almost as jolting as I did frustrating.
Those tasked with the singing portion of the show, however, did do a wonderful job and the energy was kept sky high through disco banger after disco banger. Even through the occasional ballad, the weight of the powerful four part harmonies coming from the team of ‘Star Vocalists’ - Bobby Fox, Nana Matapule, Paulini Curuenavuli and Natalie Conway – allowed for that fire to remain alive on stage.
Whilst the four offered energetic group work, they were unfortunately outshone by Australia’s queen of disco, Marcia Hines, who absolutely brought down the house with performances of her own songs. There completely for our own enjoyment (the songs and guest appearance really did nothing to advance the plot or story), Marcia was fabulous and certainly made the night…even if at the cost of the of the ‘stardom’ of the other vocalists.
Where the show’s energy completely dropped was in the scene work and to be honest, the show would have been substantially better had they cut the scenes out altogether – they brought down the mood and reminded us we were in fact not at a concert but at a musical. The inclusion of (protagonist) Tony’s parents pre-recorded on a large screen was an example of such scene work that should have been edited right out of the show. It was a gag that was met with a poor response from the audience and it kept happening consistently through the show.
Other scenes and themes that really didn’t sit well with me were the very light treatments of important issues including suicide and gang rape that were alluded to and brushed over much too quickly. I don’t believe we can bring these topics up in theatre anymore and not discuss it, I don’t believe that to be responsible theatre making. The show uses these themes to remind us of the darkness of the times and lives of these characters but it is a darkness that either needs to be further explored or omitted from the script. There is nothing wrong with allowing a show like Saturday Night Fever to remain about the dancing, the lights and the glitz, but there is something wrong with shrugging off rape and suicide.
As far as design, the costumes here were the greatest achievement – they were right on the mark – 70s flair but seriously, who else found a slew of outfits on stage that they wish that they had worn to opening night? No, just me?! The set was largely replaced with LED screens to create the world of these characters – it’s not my personal favourite as I love the depth that real sets create but it is a perfectly valid choice that worked for this. As a design choice, I felt that the lighting was pushed that bit too far and left the audience squinting at the stage rather than smiling along – it was an assault of lights that needs to be turned down just slightly to make it a little easier on the audience.
Saturday Night Fever will attract a whole lot of theatre-goers keen to enjoy a night out of good dancing, Bee Gees music, Marcia Hines and 70s sparkle. For this, I certainly applaud the Gordon Frost Organisation and all the production partners – any show that brings more audiences to the theatre is worthy of its time on the stage.
Saturday Night Fever does not deliver more than what it guarantees and it won’t be for everyone. It will give you the great dance numbers though – that I can promise.
Photo Credit: Heidi Victoria
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.