Matt Byrne Media
Until 29 Jul 2017

Review by Anthony Vawser

When you make a movie whose soundtrack LP gets its own kid-friendly spoof version put together by the team from “Sesame Street”, you can pretty safely say that your project has achieved the kind of iconic prominence that happens maybe a handful of times in a generation.

So the stage musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” most certainly has brand recognition on its side, making it appear an ideal option for theatre groups – but don’t let appearances (or nostalgic memories) deceive: despite the toning down of its most brutal elements, this is still not the PG-rated version of the story that many of you probably experienced on television in years past.

The ingredients of gritty drama and rough language in a pop musical setting don’t always mesh well in this production. Too often the true levels of energy and feeling that this dark story ought to be communicating – the passion, the tension, the venom – are not where they should be; somehow, the fever mostly goes missing. Fortunately, there are moments where the acting and the staging really do succeed in conveying the essence of Tony Manero as a protagonist with the genuine desire to change his ways, to do what is right, and to break out of his toxic, dead-end neighbourhood.

Though the songs were not originally written to be sung by the characters in “Saturday Night Fever”, this does not stop most of them from being effective enough on stage, especially if presented with as much spice and good vibes as the best of the numbers are. The addition of several Gibb Brother-composed tunes from a variety of other sources and time periods produces mixed results; some hit the spot, and others are a more awkward fit.

Visually, the design is on the minimalist side, but there a number of very satisfying touches, particularly the fly-in mirrors of the dance studio, the car that opens the second act, and the right-on-target disco ball/lights. The costume design has its dazzling moments, spotlights are effectively used at times, and the band does a mostly decent job – though the familiar arrangement of “If I Can’t Have You” seems misjudged when given to the character of Annette as a lament for the unattainable Tony; a slower version would likely have been more appropriately poignant.

The magnetic Sebastian Cooper capably holds centre stage in the central role of Tony, and Amber Platten is very appealing as Stephanie, the young lady who inspires him. Lauren Noble has a powerful presence in the role of Annette, as does Iman Saleh as the tragic Bobby C. Matthew Pugsley is an intriguing Frank Jr, while Niki Martin, Briony Kent, and Chris Stansfield are among those who make an impact in their supporting roles, and Zoe Muller’s Doreen is a vividly comic cameo.

Director Matt Byrne and his talented cast deserve kudos simply for attempting to tackle this deceptively difficult and challenging piece. If they don’t fully succeed at every step, there’s still enough quality on stage for “Saturday Night Fever” to go down as a good night out.