‘Saturday Night Fever’ stage musical decidedly lacking in wow factor

‘Saturday Night Fever’ stage musical decidedly lacking in wow factor

SHOW: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
CAST: DANIEL BUYS, NATASHA VAN DER MERWE, LJ NEILSON, MATTHEW BERRY, CRAIG URBANI, HARMAINE WEIR-SMITH, BONGI MTHOMBENI, KIRUNA-LIND DEVAR AND ENSEMBLE
CHOREOGRAPHER: WESLEE SWAIN LAUDER
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: ROWAN BAKKER
DIRECTOR: GREG HOMANN
VENUE: OPERA AT THE SOUTH AFRICAN STATE THEATRE, PRETORIA, UNTIL OCTOBER 8
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

A disco musical such as ‘Saturday Night Fever’ should be able to convey a sense of charisma, energy and sparkle.
Working from a thin script, and underdeveloped storyline, Greg Homann, directing a major musical for the first time, is unable to instil these qualities in his production.
This musical is based on the 1977 smash hit film of the same name and the scriptwriters returned to the source material to create this ‘”North American” version. The Bee Gees music, performed under the baton of musical director Rowan Bakker, seems watered down and often lacked punch.

Daniel Buys, who is a fine figure of a man, which is especially evident when he removes his shirt and provokes screams from some female members of the audience, plays the iconic dancer Tony Manero, made famous on screen by John Travolta. This is a key role and requires loads of on-stage energy and charisma to leave a mark, traits Buys does not possess. He sings well enough and can handle the dance routines, but one never feels the inner soul of the character emerging.

His romance with dancer Stephanie (Natasha van der Merwe) is devoid of genuine chemistry.
Working class hero Tony Manero lives with his religious Italian family ruled by his dominating, unemployed construction worker father Frank (Craig Urbani) and mother (Charmaine Weir-Smith). Brother Frank Jr (Cameron Botha) is a priest and the family are proud of this – until he decides to leave the priesthood (no logical reason given), bringing the family a sense of shame.

Tony ekes out a living selling paint and hates the job. He is at his best when hanging out with his buddies under the Brooklyn Bridge and dancing at the 2001 Odyssey Disco on Saturday nights where he meets all the “chicks”.
He decides to enter a disco competition with petite blonde beauty Annette (LJ Neilson), who has a crush on him, but as the competition draws closer he is attracted to another dancer, Stephanie, and dumps poor Annette.

Overall, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ is patchy, and although there are some strong solo vocals along the way, it never attains truly great heights.
Disrupting elements are the scenery, which keep shooting in and out from the wings, and the various levels around which the production revolves. At times I had to crane my neck to see what was happening on the top level and the action is so far removed from the audience that a great deal of the dialogue is lost and one never feels totally involved.
Somebody once said that when the stage machinery overwhelms a production, you have a problem – and that I am afraid is the case here.

The acting, generally, is of the wooden variety. Tony’s buddies, Bobby C (Matthew Berry), Double J (Steven van Wyk), Gus (Keaton Ditchfield) and Joey (Brandon Lindsey), have no distinctive personalities, but there is a faint feeling of good-natured camaraderie between them.
Redeeming features of the production, however, are some of the solo singing, which includes a stand-out performance from Kiruma-Lind Devar, as Pauline, doing a memorable ‘How Deep is Your Love’.

The dance sequences captured the disco era and the music triggered many memories from the past when I donned my flowery shirt, bell-bottomed jeans and platform shoes, to dance away the night at Tramps, Peppermint Park, Chicago and Q’s – clubs that dominated the Johannesburg scene at the time.
For those unfamiliar with the era, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ at least provides a new generation with some insight into what American journalist Nik Cohn coined “the tribal rights of the new Saturday night.” It was his 1976 article in a New York magazine on which John Badham’s film was based.

For bookings, visit http://online.computicket.com/web/event/saturday_night_fever/993132257.