Saturday Night Fever at Bristol Hippodrome

PRODUCER/director Bill Kenwright has been presenting productions of Willy Russell’s Liverpool based Blood Brothers in London and around the country virtually non-stop since 1987.

Liverpool born and long term chairman of Everton Football Club, Kenwright’s roots are well and truly in that city, and the sensitive way in which he has directed and produced this new York based show, which, like Blood Brothers, deals with the fate of underprivileged characters, here living in Brooklyn, in particularly Tony Manero, suggests that he sees parallel lines between them and those the Johnstone family faced in Russell’s play, with what appear to be insurmountable obstacles in the way of lifting themselves out of  the poverty trap that they have been born into.

All that may not readily appear to be a good basis for a musical show, but add in the  music of the legendary BeeGees and the iconic images of John Travolta, and this stage adaptation is taken from the 1977 film that shot the then unknown Travolta into mega-star orbit, and you have a great deal to appeal to those who  love the music and styles of the 1970s and 80s.

It also has an inbred problem in that you require a larger-than-life charismatic figure to play the Tony Manero role. Virtually never off stage, he not only has to have the look, poses, and dance movements of John Travolta but in addition show acting skills strong enough to keep the often over-dramatic and sometimes over sentimental storyline on a level keel.

This mammoth task fell to Richard Windsor, who made good use of his experiences working with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures to capture those iconic dance movements, recreated from the film by choreographer Bill Deamer. With only limited dialogue at his disposal, he also made more than just a acceptable stab at painting a picture of a naturally intelligent, undereducated young man trapped in social poverty. All that was missing was that indefinable charisma that lifts a character out of the general run of things onto a higher level.

Cleverly designed by Gary McCann and lit by Nick Richings, making excellent use of a large-scale mirror which gave the impression that twice as many disco dancers were on stage than were actually there, the set provided a permanent bridge behind the action onto which Edward Handoll, Alistair Hill and Matt Faull, looking and sounding eerily like the BeeGees, climbed to support the dancers as they reminded us of some of the greatest hits. Musical director Rich Morris and his small-but-noisy group were on hand to supply exactly the sort of sound required to keep the show in period.

The show was at its best when slamming home the iconic sounds and visions of the original film, with the whole well-drilled company giving their all.

You had to feel a little sorry however for Kate Parr, Anna Campkin, Raphael Pace and Melody Jones who, in addition to their dancing duties, which they did wholeheartedly, had with minimum ammunition to create the strong characters of Stephanie, Tony’s upwardly  new dance partner, Annette, his discarded girlfriend and ex dance partner, the tragic looser Bobbie C, and careworn his mother. It says much for their acting skills and commitment that four such well drawn characters emerged.


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