All the Dance Moves and Angst
If you were 20ish in 1977, no doubt the songs of the BeeGees are burned into your mind. You likely saw Saturday Night Fever on a movie date. And those feelings of nostalgia account for the popularity of the musical Saturday Night Fever.
Disco favourites like the BeeGees’ Stayin’ Alive, Jive Talkin’, Night Fever, You Should Be Dancing, Nights on Broadway, How Deep is Your Love and The Trammps’ Disco Inferno (Burn Baby Burn) will take you back to the seventies. The production of Saturday Night Fever, now on stage at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre not only gives you that music, but also demonstrates the best in dance moves from the short-lived disco era.
But here’s the problem: you want to see Saturday Night Fever because of the feel good music and great dancing, and the whole experience should be uplifting. The nostalgia trip should be designed to give you a pleasant ride.
But think back to the plot of that movie in 1977. It was dark, depressing, and filled with angst. Let me refresh your memory – spoiler alert – if you want to see the show with fresh eyes, skip this paragraph: Tony is working at a dead-end job in a paint store and the only time he’s happy is when he’s on the dance floor at the local disco. Life in Brooklyn is pretty bleak – Dad is unemployed, Mom is miserable and the family bickers constantly. Tony can’t live up to their expectations – his older brother, a priest, is the favourite. Annette thinks she’s in love with Tony and keeps throwing herself at him, and he uses her as a dance partner, until he sees Stephanie, who’s a better dancer. Tony also belongs to a so-called gang, none of whom are happy with their lot in life. All suffer from 20-something angst, complaining all the time, talking bull**it. Life goes from bad to worse – his brother quits the priesthood, Pauline is pregnant and Bobby C can’t decide if he should marry her, then he falls from the bridge. The gang, in an attempt at revenge, beats up the wrong guy. The stage show is sanitized in comparison to the movie: the attempted rape and suicide are left out.
So you want to love this musical, but the plot won’t let you. But let me stress that it is not the fault of this production. The cast gives it their all: the singing and dancing are amazing. Matt Alfano is a phenomenal Tony – from his cocky strut, to the bedroom briefs scene, to the magnificent dance moves. (Alfano was a standout last season in Stratford’s A Chorus Line.) Tess Alves is spectacular as Stephanie – her accent, her rendition of What Kind of Fool, and her dancing are all well done. Michael De Rose and Katie Beetham as Monty and Candy sing the disco hits perfectly with incredible power. Heather McGuigan as the rejected Annette sings a heart-wrenching If I Can’t Have You. The entire ensemble shines, both in their singing and dancing. Of special note are Nicko Giannakos and Jennifer Theissen who were the superb Puerto Rican dancers in the finale.
The frequent scene changes are fine in the old movie, but with the stage show closely following the same story line, the scene changes become cumbersome. We move from the disco, to the street, the bridge, the parents’ dining room table, Tony’s bedroom, the dance studio, the hospital with several back and forth shifts. While the sets look good, the many changes slow the overall pace.
The music and dance in this production are so good that they make up for the anxieties of trapped youth. And those who don’t want to admit they participated in the disco craze, can go to the theatre and enjoy the memories for one night.
Saturday Night Fever continues at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto until February 12. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Photo: Matt Alfano as Tony, Tessa Alves as Stephanie and the cast. Photo by Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.
Saturday Night Fever
Based on the film and the story by Nik Cohn, adapted for stage by Robert Stigwood with Bill Oaks, North American version written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.
Music and Lyrics by the BeeGees (Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb)
Directed by Marcia Kash, assisted by Thomas Alderson
Musical Direction by Steve Thomas
Choreographed by Mark Kimelman
Performed by Matt Alfano, Tessa Alves, Jak Barradell, Katie Beetham, Debbie Collins, Michael De Rose, Aaron Ferguson, Sarah Higgins, Galen Johnson, Heather McGuigan, Kyla Musselman, David Rosser, AJ Simmons, Justin Stadnyk, et al.
Produced by North Corp Productions and 2Luck Concepts
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
February 7-12, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Disclaimer: the reviewer’s son was Assistant Director of this production.