Review: Saturday Night Fever, Sydney Lyric Theatre

This production is all about the dance: the motion and the meaning. Brilliant dance. Feverish dance.
Review: Saturday Night Fever, Sydney Lyric Theatre

The Australian cast of Saturday Night Fever. Photo credit: Heidi Victoria.

No matter 'how deep is your love' of the 1977 film, this Saturday Night Fever is a summer breeze of morning sun and pouring rain. Yes, it drops the needle on the beloved tracks and yes, it has an anti-hero and a star-crossed story, but what this production is all about is the dance: the motion and the meaning. Brilliant dance. Feverish dance.   

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As a flipping clock’s clunky pages count the audience back to the late 70s, the music hits full bass and the audience is a shakin’ with the irresistible beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive’. And Evan Doidge as Tony Manero has that strut. Enough to make an audience cheer his first entrance and with charisma abundant to bring the audience to its knees. Not just because the tight black undies and gold chain make a Travolta-esque appearance but because he is arrogant and riding high and ready for a white suited come-uppance. Doidge’s inhabitation of the egotistical Tony is superbly rendered and he inscribes the character's fall with pathos and empathy. Oh, and his dancing!

This is an unparalleled dance ensemble. The choreography keeps the point and pose and the step-outs and kicks of the original but adds in lifts and throws and some acrobatics with a dynamism driven by needle-sharp detail. The show hits high energy early, leaving time for the story to build and the characters to emerge. Like Melanie Hawkins as Stephanie. Hawkins endows the character with a brittle aspiration and tenuous self-reliance buoyed and boosted by her aptitude for the dance. Language alone fails to describe the beauty of Hawkins' solo.

Superlatives also fail to express the singing and complex characterisation of Angelique Cassimatis as Annette and Ryan Morgan as Bobby, whose disco heartbeats bring genuine rubato to the show. Diva Queen Marcia Hines rules in a swathe of gold, and the four leopard-print and silver sparkle singers who provide much of soundtrack are seamlessly interleaved into the production (though in the main, the singing stands apart from the action).

Video projections give movement and flash to a show which requires a great deal of bare floor for the vibrant dance sequences. Sometimes realistic – the windows of the El Train flicker above the cast – sometimes more figurative. Shards of glass fall in concert with the sharpness of a re-imagined pas de deux, only to be reprised at the most poignant moment of the story. The lighting colours also reprise. A soft aqua and mauve for the romance of a duo darkens and deepens in the next cacophonic scene where the geometric iconography of the dance floor is reflected in a huge flown mirror ball. The set is necessarily spare and the revolve sparingly used. There are Farrah wigs and the costumes keep coming in Harry-hi-pants beltless trousers and the occasional bedazzler-hit denim jacket until glam arrives for a dance-off where the themes collide and shape the emotional finale.

Saturday Night Fever is a production which pays due homage to the film and its time and the disco shockwaves that still ripple towards us. There is movement all around, there’s something goin’ down … it’s a Night Fever but not of nostalgia. This Saturday Night Fever is boogie fever re-booted with the brilliance of hindsight and the inclusive joy of extraordinary dance and marvelous performances.

Five stars: ★★★★★

John Frost in association with Robert Stigwood present
Saturday Night Fever – The Musical
Based on the Paramount/RSO Film and the story by Nik Cohn
Adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oakes
Edited by Ryan McBryde
Featuring songs by The Bee Gees

Australian Adaptation Director: Karen Johnson Mortimer
Euan Doidge: Tony
Melanie Hawkins: Stephanie
Marcia Hines:  The Diva
Timomatic: Monty
Paulini: Star Vocalist
Natalie Conway:  Star Vocalist
Bobby Fox: Star Vocalist
Nana Matapule: Star Vocalist
Angelique Cassimatis: Annette
Ryan Morgan: Bobby

Sydney Lyric Theatre, Pyrmont
Now playing until 2 June 2019

Judith Greenaway

Wednesday 3 April, 2019

About the author

Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers.  She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.