Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Nan Knighton, The Bee Gees
Bill Kenwright Ltd.
Palace Theatre, Manchester
September 27-October 1, 2022; 2hr 30min
(also Bradford Alhambra, November 7-12)
Think Saturday Night Fever and you think timeless Bee Gees tunes, on-point disco dancing and an unflinching look at working class life in 1970s Brooklyn.
The latest UK tour might only deliver two out of three, but the Palace Theatre audience in Manchester didn’t appear to be missing the third.
The show certainly doesn’t hang around. After a brief overture, the beautifully-lit stage of New York fire escape stairways is revealed and we’re straight into the opening number. A live band and three singers, imitating the Gibbs Brothers, provide the soundtrack to a tribute to the famous opening credits of the original 1977 movie.
As Tony Manero, lead Jack Wilcox struts on and then barely leaves the stage. He might have the classic paint can of the film’s first scene, but he lacks the acting chops and macho magnetism of Travolta. While he clearly has the moves, they occasional stray from cool into camp.
Our hero is stuck in a dead-end job during the week and tears up the dance floor at the weekend. The black sheep of his dysfunctional family, Tony surrounds himself with a gang of delinquent mates and a collection of fawning women. But could a dance contest and an aloof blonde be the key to a better future?
The first half zips along aided by song, dance and super-quick set changes. Sadly, the energy utterly dissipates during the perfunctory dialogue. The scenes feel stilted and tacked on.
Many of the most problematic plot points and themes from the source material have been removed from the stage show, but some of the lines that remain still feel pretty much on the edge of what’s acceptable. Something that’s not helped by Tony’s near Damascene conversion in the second act.
Despite the issues with the original story, the plot still feels overlooked. When the emotional climax comes it feels unearned because of the cursory scenes beforehand.
Not that the audience seemed bothered. The numbers go down a storm and Wilcox’s costume changes are greeted with a hen do-style response that wouldn't be out of place at a Dreamboys or Chippendales show.
On the plus side, no expense has been spared with the set, which effortlessly transforms from Bay Ridge to a lit-up dance floor, complete with countless disco balls. Perfectly painted back wall prints and scenery flats fly in and out.
The unusually large touring cast manages to breathlessly deliver every step of Bill Deamer’s complex choreography with ease.
As Bobbie C and Annette, Harry Goodson-Bevan and Billie Hardy deliver accomplished acting and vocal performances.
Unfortunately, there are some questionable accents from other cast members, plus microphone issues throughout and a rather loud smoke machine that took away the little emotion that was generated by the show’s finale.
There is nothing wrong with a stage show being a vehicle for great tunes and top hoofing. Saturday Night Fever is a good night out. It could just be so much more.
More info and tickets here