Musicals, Reviews, Stage

Saturday Night Fever theatre review (Lyric Theatre, Sydney)

| |

You know that Simpsons episode where Mr Burns and Smithers drug Tom Jones and chain him to a stage to perform at gunpoint for Marge and Homer? “Get help, love,” Tom whispers to Marge between verses of It’s Not Unusual. “Call Interpol, get me a hacksaw, anything.”

It came to me as I watched Marcia Hines inexplicably belt out her 1977 hit You on stage at Sydney’s ghastly Star casino in the middle of the even ghastlier Bee Gees jukebox show Saturday Night Fever, her incandescent frock betraying the glazed look in her eyes.

Is somebody making you do this, Marcia? Blink twice for yes. We’ll send help.

Saturday Night Fever is, of course, the gritty examination of class and sex and the dazzling sub-culture of disco in 1970s New York. Or at least it was in the 1976 New York magazine feature that inspired the story, and to some degree in the wildly popular 1977 film that made John Travolta a bonafide movie star and the soundtrack one of the best-selling of all time.

On stage, in this 1998 West End-born remount, it’s a cluttered cabaret of familiar tunes, slick moves and cardboard characters flat-packed for a family audience. To those nostalgic for the times, and kids and pets distracted by colour and movement, perhaps it’s $110 (for the best seats) well spent.

To the rest of us it’s a remarkably tedious affair. A story with almost no stakes. Earnest and witless, when laughing at itself might have been this show’s only hope in 2019. Sexist, certainly. Probably racist. Garishly designed with mostly digital sets. Way too loud (there is a pit orchestra of eight, but for all the distortion it hardly seems worth it). With a sharp disconnect between a Greek chorus of four singers belting out the Gees’ hits and the actors/dancers whose stories we’re supposed to be invested in.

And Marcia isn’t the only one looking bored. Her Australian Idol protege, Paulini Curuenavuli, gets star billing but is reduced to the sideline vocals along with Bobby Fox (a little shaky on the all-important falsetto), Nana Matapule and Natalie Conway. Curuenavuli, who starred gamely in The Bodyguard in 2017, has the strongest voice and looked the least interested in the whole exercise. You can hardly blame her.

Euan Doidge steps into Travolta’s boots as Tony Manero, the Brooklyn brawler who just wants to dance. He’s got the necessary defined muscles and definitive moves, borrowed largely from the film, tirelessly leading the crack ensemble in high energy dance numbers. It’s the bits in the middle that are the problem.

Melanie Hawkins is Stephani, who wins his heart through dancing and the desire for something better than this. She’s Doidge’s equal on the dancefloor. Tony’s former dance partner, gooey-eyed Annette, is given short shrift and, with Angelique Cassimatis in the role, comes closest to any emotional impact. She also gets to sing, unlike the leads, delivering a lovelorn adaptation of If I Can’t Have You, demonstrating what could have been achieved with the catalogue of songs the show had at its disposal.

You know the ones:

Stayin’ Alive, You Should Be Dancing, Night Fever, Jive Talkin’, What Kind Of Fool, Tragedy, Immortality, How Deep Is Your Love, et al. Everyone knows the words. And there’s a determination to make sure you don’t see them in any new light.

The other male performers – like they got lost on the way to Jersey Boys – do their best with the material they’ve got. Though particular credit goes to Tim “Timomatic” Omaji, who at least brings a sense of fun to the near-offensive black DJ character. TV veterans Denise Drysdale and Mark Mitchell are Tony’s pre-recorded parents, comedy foils projected onto the back of the stage.

Marcia sits out the first act and finally appears as the diva dance judge Estella. After energising the audience with You – jimmied into the show presumably to fill out the part – she’s reduced to clapping on the sidelines. Eight times a week. I hope the cheque is a large one.

Anything approaching social commentary – the alcoholic father, the priest in a crisis of faith, the pregnant teen, discrimination against race and class – is immediately and awkwardly dispatched with a high kick. Like the admittedly gargantuan mirror ball overhead, it’s smooth, shiny and entirely empty.

Saturday Night Fever plays the Lyric Theatre, The Star booking until June 2

8 responses to “Saturday Night Fever theatre review (Lyric Theatre, Sydney)

  1. Sad isn’t it when people are EMPLOYED and doing their best to have some-one come in and write this nastiness? 🙁

  2. After reading this review I can’t believe I was at the same show with 9 professional colleagues who adored it. This piece of theatre, its lighting and projections in the set design took us on a journey, musically brilliant, a cast that owned the stage, some of the best dancing ever staged in Sydney and the show cops this review? Please save us from reading Jason’s elitist reviews ever again. This show is fun, vibrant and something for the whole family to come and enjoy.

  3. I really enjoyed the show, but felt the video parts with mark Mitchell and Denise Drysdale let the show down. Their poor on and off Brooklyn accents were a real let down.

  4. Saw this show last night with 2 friends last night and totally agree. Bobby Fox singing was excruciatingly bad more like screaching off key. The whole show fell flat which is a shame seeing it has great music to work with. So disappointing, save your money.

  5. you ppl just dont understand , if your going to do snf it has to be about the music and specifically the bee gee’s music , the opening song was the killer you just cant sing that song in tenor and make it sound like the original

    watch the original snf movie , the songs made the movie not the acting or effects

    i would have walked out but i got the tickets for free and may as well watch the ship sink

  6. Saw the show on Saturday afternoon, so many empty seats -such a shame. It was okay , the chap who played Tony was great, it was the the rest of the cast who I felt where lacking, can’t put my finger on what the problem was …..Denise Drysdale and Mark Mitchell really could they not have employed 2 actors to play this part, they where a waste of time . 6/10

  7. I certainly went with an open mind… However, nothing but a sensational disappointment. The vocals, performed by Bobby, Nana and Natalie were certainly not on par, with the only shining light being the incredible dance routines of Melanie Hawkins. The dancing was sharp, quick and with great execution… unfortunately the total opposite could be said of the vocals. The “BeeGees”-type falsetto tunes emanating from Bobby Fox were excruciating, with Nana Matapule sounding like he was on another stage altogether. This certainly makes me question the quality of shows that the Lyric brings to town.

  8. Horrible!!! Saw it on weekend. Singing was so bad !!! So annoyed wasting money I tickets.
    Storyline was bad. Dancing was ok. Marcia wAs great. Don’t know why she did this show.

    Honestly did not bring back any memories whAtsoever. 3/10

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *