Saturday Night Fever - The Musical
Adapted for the stage by Nan Knighton in co-operation with Arlene Phillips, Paul Nicholas and Robert Stigwood
Nottingham Theatre Royal and touring
Now, come on fellas, own up: who hasn't stood in front of the mirror more than once with left hand on hip, right hand pointing to the sky, imagining you're more than a match on the dance floor for John Travolta?
Well, here's something that will make you throw your white suit into the dustbin in disgust: Stephane Anelli who plays Tony Manero in the touring version of Saturday Night Fever is so good he can teach Travolta a few new moves.
The show's been on the road for seven months now yet Anelli looks as fresh as he surely must have been when it kicked off at Bromley in March.
From the moment he appears on stage he gives a captivating performance. He's a good actor, fine singer and a simply tremendous dancer. He struts around with the slight arrogance which we've come to expect from the character made famous in the '70s film yet he's so much more: he dances as effortlessly as many people breathe, he has charisma and is so magnetic you find your eyes fixing on him rather than the rest of the cast, even though they all give inspired performances.
There wasn't much doubt who most of the Theatre Royal audience had gone to see: groups of women in the mixed-age audience whooped with delight when Anelli took to the floor in the club 2001 Odyssey and they roared their approval when he took off his shirt to reveal a (real) hairy chest. He doesn't even need the white suit to make him to look good; it appears only towards the end. And thankfully there isn't a medallion in sight.
The storyline of Saturday Night Fever is by now extremely familiar, although like a lot of modern musicals there's only a flimsy outline of a tale between the well-known songs.
Tony Manero is a paint store clerk by day in his birthplace Brooklyn but after dark he changes into flares and big-collared shirt and astounds everyone with his dancing prowess. There's an underlying theme of the problems young people face as they cross the bridge from adolescence into adulthood and the responsibilities which go with it. But that's referred to only briefly before it's back to the dancing and singing.
Saturday Night Fever is the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time and arguably made the Bee Gees the biggest group in the world. Their number one hits Staying Alive, Night Fever and How Deep Is Your Love are all in the show along with another nine top ten successes and a couple of other tracks which were all the rage in the '70s.
The success of Saturday Night Fever is down to the high-energy dancing - superbly choreographed by Arlene Phillips - and enthusiastic singing. The cast don't try to recreate the Bee Gees' sound but give the songs their own treatment. This works well, especially with a moving version of Tragedy by Bobby C (Darren Carnall). He's in turmoil because his girlfriend is pregnant and the lyrics have a poignancy I'd never noticed before.
Among the flares, afros and hot pants, there's a sensational dancing competition towards the end, with energetic salsa performances by Helen Dixon and understudy Tom Goodall.
Zoe Smith is "super" as Tony's love interest, the higher-class Stephanie Mangano; and Jane Horn gives a sparkling performance as Annette, the plain girl spurned by Tony even though she idolises him.
But everything comes back to Tony Manero. The musical succeeds or fails with him. Stephane Anelli is simply awesome.
"Saturday Night Fever" tours until January 3rd 2004
Kevin Catchpole reviewed the 2004 West End production at the Apollo Victoria
Reviewer: Steve Orme