Jack Wilcox as Tony in the iconic white suit and pose with  Rebekah Bryant as Stephanie by his side with the hard working cast. Pictures: Paul Coltas

Saturday Night Fever

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


This is a show that stays alive from the booming bars of the opening, that most of the audience could probably have heard without leaving home, to the on-yer-feet-bop-along disco medley finale. A night of boogie magic.

It is based on Robert Stigwood’s 1977 miniscule budget film which cost $3.5m – the 1998 stage adaptation cost £4m or $6.6m, almost twice that.

The film made the then US sitcom actor John Travolta into an international star and was a seminal moment in the career of The Bee Gees with five Grammys for the soundtrack including best album elevating them to supergroup status.

It was the film that made disco mainstream and 43 years on the stage show has lost none of that original spark with its heady mix of dance and drama with added nostalgia for the more mature - each song a journey back to youth.

The film was a dance movie, Travolta rehearsed three hours a day, losing 20lbs, and Jack Wilcox takes up the mantle of Tony with strutting style.

Tony Manero was a guy with a swagger, who walked as if he has a hip complaint and who spent more time with his hair than most people do in work. His only qualification when he left school was the ability to attract girls with his only real talent he could dance.

He had a dead-end job in a paint store, only coming alive on Saturday nights as the king of the dance floor and Wilcox has that off pat in the first act, a preening ego with all the moves on and off the dance floor full of wise cracks deeply in love with . . . Tony.

The only hint that there might be more to him was his home life in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His father Frank senior, Philip Aiden, is a surly bully, a domestic abuser, an unemployed construction worker after being sacked eight months ago, his mother Flo, played by Melody E Jones, finds comfort, or more likely escape, in God.


Tony and Stephanie rehearse for the dance competition

Her real comfort being older son, Frank junior, who is a priest, bringing some sort of salvation to her family, but that goes cassock up in Act 2 when Frank, played by Marios Nicolaides, leaves the priesthood to find his own life.

Act 2 sees another side to Tony. We start to see beyond the lothario with dancing moves and not much else. Here is a bloke with feelings he can’t quite put into words, a bloke who sees that perhaps his life should be more than leading on women – especially Annette.

This is a lovely performance from Billie Hardy. She is on the fringe of Tony’s group of devotees and she is besotted with Tony, and wants to be his partner in the coming $1,000 dance competition.

To Tony she is more a nuisance, he puts her down quite cruelly which was to see her, too many pills popped, offering herself, or at least her body, to anyone around in a sort of act of misguided penitence for uncommitted sins, or perhaps merely in the simple forlorn hope of making him jealous.

It was an example of how Tony had grown up that he rescues her from her sexual penance. They might not ride off together into the sunset but he restores her self respect and offers if not romance, at least real friendship.

The catalyst to Tony’s awakening is, not surprisingly, a woman. Stephanie Mangano, played quite beautifully by Rebekah Bryant. Stephanie is a cut above the rest of the girls in Bay Ridge, or at least thinks she is.

She has a job with an agency in Manhattan,  meeting or at least telling she is meeting, famous clients. How much is true, how much a boast to leave Bay Ridge behind, we never know. What we do discover is that her position and her future advancement has a horizontal element as in being, should we say, accommodating, to a music producer.

As for Tony, he sees her dance, decides she is the dance contest partner for him, and then cannot understand why she doesn’t fall all over him like pretty well every girl he has known. The difference here though being that he is falling for her and who could blame him?

The pair take to sparring pointing out what they think of each other, which hurts mainly because most of it is pretty much true.

Tony is self-centred, a nobody no hoper who can dance, Stephanie is trying to erase her Bay Ridge roots from her life and become what she sees as cultured and classy like crowd she meets and works with – even if she has to sleep her way in.

The home truths hit home ripping off the masks they have hidden behind and Stephanie from indifference bordering on dislike sees more in Tony than he has ever shown to anyone else, his thoughts and dreams as they head into the dance contest.

dance contest

Tony and Stephanie in the dance contest with The Bee Gees on stage above the cleverly angled mirror backdrop. 

They will be the happy ending to the show but there is still tragedy to deal with in the shape of Bobby, Tony’s best friend, whose girlfriend Pauline is pregnant. He wants her to have an abortion, but a staunch Catholic, she is determined to have the baby and all the parents, friends and relatives say they have to get married.

Bobby, played by Harry Goodson-Bevan, is desperate for guidance from Tony, but Tony is too busy, too self-obsessed to call him as promised with devastating consequences, a painful wake-up call for Tony – just looking good having limited importance in real life with real people.

It is a wonderful performance from Goodson-Bevan, who incidentally, is making his professional debut, something you would never guess unless told.

At its heart Saturday Night Fever is a dance show, and Bill Deamer’s choreography was spot on and executed to perfection by a hard working cast who made the complex look simple and the difficult easy.

Tony’s solo had contemporary dance class about it while he and Stephanie danced beautifully together, well matched and dancing as one.

The other stars were Al Jenks, Drew Ferry and Oliver Thomson as a creditable representation of The Bee Gees, going through the familiar string of hits from Stayin’ Alive through Tragedy to How Deep is Your Love with a few extra songs thrown in carried along by an excellent five piece band under musical director Jeremy Wootton.

Gary McCann’s set was a clever affair on two levels with the band and Bee Gees at the rear and stairways on tenement fire escapes to give visual interest.

Back drops from the flies gave instant Tony’s room, paint store, dance studio and Tony’s home while an LED lit floor could be turned into disco at the flick of a switch with a huge drop down mirror which could be angled giving new perspectives to dance numbers.

Lighting from Nick Richings was imaginative with lovely use of mirror balls while sound, from Dan Samson, after the opening that could be heard in space, was superbly balanced.

Saturday Night Fever on stage, directed by Bill Kenwright, pays both homage to the landmark film and sets its own mark taking us back to the disco era and providing a night of nostalgia for some and entertainment for all – with plenty of classic songs to hum on your way home. To 26-11-22.

Roger Clarke


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