The movie Saturday Night Fever opened one month before my 20th birthday. It (and the man who was to become an icon for a generation, John Travolta) was a sensation. Everyone saw it and everyone disco danced to the Bee Gees music composed especially for the movie. .
The musical opens with a scene which could be downtown Joburg today, with a blackout, reports of horrific crime and general grime. Stayin’ Alive belts out from the stage and I know the music is going to be as good as life in the musical is hard – “Life going nowhere, someone please help me”. It is Brooklyn, New York, 1977 not Pretoria 2016 and I am on a trip down memory lane. Oldies were dancing in their seats and I sang (off-key, but happily) all the way home. I think I can safely say it was a triumph!
Under the direction of Greg Homann, the production is fast-paced and jam packed with dance numbers beautifully choreographed by Wesley Swain Lauder. The original story line has its weakness in that it is too busy to ensure that the audience bonds properly with the characters. Homann overcomes much of this with “extra” scenes happening during the action. The scene with Pauline’s parents giving her the news at the end sent shivers down my spine. Homann was a fairly recent recipient of the Standard Bank Artist for Theatre and once again he demonstrates exceptional creative ability.
The pit band led by Musical Director Rowan Bakker, provides a large sound to one of popular music’s most recognizable collection of hits. The music is what makes this production so delightful, and the musicians deserve recognition. Assistant musical director – Drew Rienstra, Guitar – Kuba Sikiewicz, Bass – Jason Green, Drums – P W van der Walt, Trumpet – Donny Bouwer, Trombone – Dan Selsick, Reeds – Brian Smith, Violin – Daline Wilson, and Cello – Maureen Marler. Trevor Peters was the sound designer.
The set was very clever and was both designed and lit by Denis Hutchinson. The machinery of the State Theatre Opera Stage was used to create some marvellous effects. Sarah Roberts was responsible for the wonderful costumes which were never over-the-top.
The main weakness in the production is that the diction delivered with faux American accents was not always clear, and this lost some of the lines their saucy humour. It didn’t seem to matter to the enthusiastic opening night audience who hollered their approval throughout.
The main role, Tony Manero, is played by Daniel Buys across from love interest Stephanie Mangano, played by Natasha van der Merwe. Buys is plausible as a 19 year old and has the kind of physique which deserves the howls of approval he got when he stripped down to his scants for the mirror scene. He doesn’t have Travolta’s natural swagger, but he worked exceptionally well with the ensemble cast.
Of the rest of the cast I am going to single out only Craig Urbani who played the role of Tony’s father, Frank Manero, and Kirunda Lind Devar who played the role of Pauline. They both created characters with whom the audience could empathise. The former is an established actor while the latter is the new girl on the scene. However, between them they epitomised the talent, hard work and enthusiasm of the entire cast, Brandon Lindsay, Keaton Ditchfield, Steven van Wyk, Matthew Berry, Clint Lesch, Mark Richardson, Joanna Abatzoglou, Charmaine Weir-Smith, Nurit Graff, Bongi Mthombeni, Cameron Botha, Zane Gillion, Philip Schnetler, Toni Jean Erasmus, Raquel Munn, Phumi Mncayi, Nathan Kruger, Vanesa Brierley, Londiwe Dhlomo, and Devon Flemmer.
I lied. I am going to single out two other performers. Annette played by L J Nielson was also a superb cameo role with singing which deserves a special accolade as does Sebe Leotlela who sang the role of Candy, the disco diva.
All round this is a good evening’s entertainment.
Saturday Night Fever runs from 13 September – 9 October 2016 at The South African State Theatre, Pretoria.