Beat battling to stay alive

saturday night fever ast

Saturday Night Fever

The New Alexandra Theatre

***

PRODUCING a live version of an iconic movie of this level of fame will undoubtedly be a challenge, in the end it either works or it doesn’t.

Unfortunately with this version it does not. Considering it is a story about New York disco life and young adults facing various levels of identity issues, it seems it’s the entire production here that does not seem to know quite what it is.

You cannot take anything away from the skill of the cast and performers but the conception, editing and direction by Ryan McBryde leaves you cold at the final result.

Instead of a retro disco atmosphere we now have polished choreography straight out of Dancing with the Stars in the Arlene Philips style, complete with cheesy grins.

Overall the full company numbers are the sort of thing you would see backing a hopeful contestant on the X factor, but have little of the casual romantic charm of the film. 

The contrast then turns to depressing scenes of drama that go on for far too long trying to convey the family life of Tony Manero and the financial issues of the times, but unconnected to the big musical sections.

Then there are the musical arrangements by Paul Herbert. Many of the classic songs from the movie score are watered down to introspective acoustic ballads and segues that further add to the down beat atmospheres and put the disco lights out, and when they do come  are at odds to the soul searching melodrama.

One wonders why anyone would mess with any of this. Even songs like the classic disco ballad by the Bee Gees, More than a Woman, featured during the famous dance in the film, is now altered to a more of a Latin beat and lasting only fraction of its original length.

Another thing touring companies still fail to get is that it is the music that people come to see performed.

Sound wise it is often lacking in quality relying on the basic in-house theatre systems. On this performance it was possibly one of the weakest I have heard.

Disco is about the beat and here a live drummer, Nick James, is cocooned in transparent box thought out the show and although he was seen, he was hardly heard.  With brass instruments played by the cast overpowering much of the songs and then live dialogue and sound FX added to that it was difficult to hear much of what was being said at times.

No fault can be laid at the performers’ feet though. Danny Bayne is a sharp Tony Manero and although he lacks any of the sleazy charm Travolta created opting for more a musical theatre lead role, his choreography and vocals were excellent. Naomi Slights as Stephanie was also polished in her dance skills and had a great voice. Ci Ci Howells is a club singer throughout much of the show and handled many of the upbeat musical sections and also did a great job.

Whilst many of the cast displayed their talent and ability of playing instruments and joining in with the dance routines you can’t help feel a more regular stage band would have done a better job at punching home these energetic and timeless club classics.

Somebody in the production team just doesn’t get Disco and whilst the film did have darker more dramatic overtones, it was the dance floor and the soundtrack where it came alive and for what it is revered for. With songs and references about heat like Disco Inferno and a title of Saturday Night Fever, I was disappointed to have left with nothing but a Tuesday night chill. To 21-03-15

Jeff Grant

17-03-15

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