It’s easy to forget that the original cinema version of Saturday Night Fever was a raw and gritty exposé of the hypocrisy of the American Dream.
We were all so hypnotised by the power and energy of the Bee Gee’s blistering soundtrack that themes in the core coming-of-age story of a young paint-shop salesman and part-time disco dancer, were buried.
For those old enough to remember, a PG-rated “family-friendly” second cut of the film, was produced. Gone was most of the swearing, violence, neighbourhood prejudices and gloom.
Instead we were left with a watered down disco musical that launched a fashion for lycra leggings and gave John Travolta a dance ticket to super-stardom.
Director Ryan McBryde has gone back to the original text for a new stage production from Theatre Royal Bath which is now touring the UK.
It opened at Wycombe Swan last night and, while it had a lot going for it, there was still work to be done to make it a hit.
McBryde never misses an opportunity to draw parallels with America’s struggling economy of the 1970s and the world of today.
It opens with a series of depressing news bulletins on a video screen and a line of hard-up Noo-Yorkers desperately queuing for petrol while being harassed by beggars.
Gee life was tough. They couldn’t even afford a cup of “cawfee” (or to stump up enough paint to put an apostrophe on the dance studio name-plate).
For young Italian-American Tony Manero the hard times meant a minimum wage job in a paint store, hanging out with the guys, and busting a few moves on the dance floor of a Saturday Night.
If he had aspirations he didn’t know what they were or what to do with them. And, as far as he was concerned, women were either nice girls or bitches.
What lifted the original film from being a turgid story of angry young men living a cliché was the music.
SNF took disco mainstream, with unforgettable songs like Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, More Than a Woman, and Disco Inferno.
But the hits have been orchestrated to death in the new stage show to the extent that their arrangements have turned electrifying disco hits into so-so show-tune standards.
There’s even a few interlopers. Neither Jive Talking or Tragedy were ever in the original film – but why keep a good song out?
Lines are taken out of context and sung through gritted teeth to emphasise what a bloody awful life they’re all leading. Yeah, we get it.
Danny Bayne made a name for himself bagging another Travolta role, that of Danny Zuko in Grease, after he won a reality TV show to find a star for the West End show.
But he struggles to capture the charisma of Travolta and fails to bring any discernable personality to the role.
Sure, there were plenty of good dance moves, but, on opening night, a lot of the audience struggled to understand him.
His dialogue, understandably heavily-accented, was delivered too fast and too quietly while his singing was drowned out by the ensemble and orchestra.
Naomi Slights as his disco partner, Stephanie, showed an excellent turn of foot as a dancer and I wish we could have seen more of them show-casing their skills.
Some of the big production numbers failed to ignite or really register, almost being sidelined for the dominating and uncompromising story-line.
SNF has a large and versatile cast who, at times, play instruments while dancing. This makes them exceptionally good value for money and I’m sure that the producers are delighted.
But it does make some of the choreography rather clunky as they twirl saxophones while trying to burn up the dance floor.
Saturday Night Fever runs at Wycombe Swan until Saturday.