Saturday Night Fever

(Lyric Theatre)


Professional production

There are many reasons to see a show like Saturday Night Fever. Among these is the expectation that it’s going to be pretty damn good. I mean, come on, it’s the Bee Gees, who didn’t have all those number one hits by accident. If you grew up in the seventies they were the definition of cool. In fact, I’m surprised nobody thought to do this as a musical sooner. It’s a no-brainer, right? So add a couple more songs, and you’ve got yourself a hit.

Well, it seems that’s exactly what they’ve done with this musical, except that during large parts of it I sat there wondering what all the fuss was about, especially when I was aware of the level of direction. To be frank, there wasn’t any.

This in itself is a bit of an oddity. On closer inspection I learnt from reading the program that director Arleen Phillips is not really a director at all, but rather a choreographer, and so the absence of direction is perhaps more the fault of the producers for failing to provide one. On the flip side, the choreography was something to behold. The exuberant testosterone displayed by the guys all trussed up in tight flares, leather jackets, and platform shoes, while the girls were stepping right out of Charlie’s Angels, was tremendously engaging in a Lord of the Dance kind of way.

Which brings me to the music where, I’m sorry to say, only about half the songs worked. The good ones included “Boogie Shoes” and “If I Can’t Have You”, with the pick of the bunch being “You Should Be Dancing”. Many of the others got in the way, or were, in the case of “Tragedy”, just plain ridiculous. Part of the reason is that, just as the direction was done by a choreographer, for the most part the songs were sung by dancers, who were right out of their depth here. The other reason, and perhaps more important (and this goes out to anybody contemplating writing a musical), is that a song will only work when it serves the story, which in this case the producers didn’t seem too interested in telling. It’s quite a good story too good boy from bad side of town finds escape from worldly pressures on the dance floor at the local Saturday night disco. I can only wonder wistfully what might have been achieved.

This musical with recycled songs has now become a tradition. First we had Mamma Mia!, then We Will Rock You and now we have this. I suspect that this is no coincidence. Maybe it’s easier to sell a musical when the audience already knows the music. And if this is the case, it begs a certain question, which is what do go to a musical for? The music, spectacular dancing, the acting, perhaps an interesting story? Surely it’s the complete package that we want. But that’s not what we are given here in fact it’s not even close. It’s a sorry state of affairs when we can be satisfied with nothing more than a couple of cool songs and an in-time chorus, and part of me can’t help but think our expectations are already too low.

But in the end, almost despite myself, I had a good time. So maybe that’s all we want in any case, a rock concert with a through line, and on this criterion at least, Saturday Night Fever delivers.

Direction and choreography by Arleen Phillips

Playing until 13th August 2005: Fri-Sat 8pm

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval

— Glen J. Player
(Performance seen: Thu 28th July 2005)