Saturday Night Fever
Peacock Theatre, London, until March 26
There’s a wonderfully philosophical scene in Saturday Night Fever where Richard Winsor, playing the disco king Tony Manero, says “fuck the future”,
and James Cohen, as his boss in a small-time hardware store, responds: “No, Tony! You can’t fuck the future. The future fucks you.”
The writers of some musicals now playing across the country have clearly taken the view that they can rest easy as it’s all about the songs and the
spectacle. Moulin Rouge comes to mind in this regard. Happily, Bill Kenwright, the director of this exuberant stage adaptation of the famous John Travolta film of the 70s, understands that words matter.
Of course, the script is largely taken from the original screenplay by Norman Wexler, but Kenwright has kept the best lines and discarded a lot that were superfluous. In doing so, he has made me aware of how clever the late Mr Wexler actually was: all I had previously remembered of the film are the big Bee Gees numbers and Travolta’s performance, but the words made all too little impression on my feckless teenaged mind.
It must seem like nothing short of sacrilege for die-hard fans of the film to see it turned into a West End musical, but the old team of Kenwright and Bill Deamer – his superb choreographer – know exactly what they’re doing.
They’ve got the basics right – not just in terms of the words and the great dance routines, but they have also found in Winsor and Olivia Fines, as his leading lady, worthy successors to Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney in the film.
Winsor makes a fine job of communicating Tony’s insecurity beneath the flashy white suits, and Fines, meanwhile, gets across her own private anguish trying to make her way in the testosterone-filled Brooklyn of four decades ago. The place is brilliantly evoked by the designer Gary McCann and his set feels as if it goes back at least 50 miles.
As for the songs, Jack Byrom, James Hudson and Oliver Thomson do justice
to Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb. Suddenly, for my generation, Stayin’ Alive takes on a special resonance. This is magnificent, joyous, life-enhancing theatre.