Sydney is set to go back a few eras when Saturday Night Fever bursts onto the stage of the Lyric Theatre from March 27th, 2019 for an exclusive Australian season. Today, I was lucky enough to catch a preview of what Sydneysiders should expect from the jukebox musical and got to sit down with some of the show’s stars and Australian Associate Director Karen Johnson Mortimer.
The coveted lead role of Tony Manero is played by rising star Euan Doidge, Helpmann Award nominated for his role in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, after performing in Les Miserables, A Chorus Line and the Gordon Frost Organisation’s Grease and Legally Blonde. As Stephanie Mangano, the best dancer at the nightclub, is Melanie Hawkins, who has previously appeared in Singin’ In The Rain, Strictly Ballroom the Musical and Rock of Ages.
Australia’s original disco queen, Marcia Hines, will play the role of The Diva, who performs at Disco Odyssey 2001, the nightclub where Tony Manero dances every Saturday night, while Paulini, Bobby Fox, Natalie Conway and Nana Matapule are the star vocalists who give voice to the much-loved disco Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Tim “Timomatic” Omaji (Fame, In the Heights) joins the cast as Monty, the MC at the nightclub. Tony’s older brother, Frank Jr., is played by Stephen Mahy, recently seen in Mamma Mia!, as well as in Miss Saigon and as Kenicke in Grease. Angelique Cassimatis (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Mack & Mabel) plays Annette, a neighbourhood girl who longs for a closer relationship with Tony, while the troubled Bobby C is played by recent NIDA graduate Ryan Morgan.
The cast also includes the best dancers working in Australia today – Justin Anderson, Jared Bryan, Giuliana Carniato, Lachlan Dearing, Lauren Elton, Mitchell Fistrovic, Gaynor Hicks, Elysha Manik, Kiara McGowan, Coby Njoroge, Maddie Peat, Stephen Perez, Erica Stubbs, Lola Rose Thompson, Benjamin Turland and Chris Van Doren.
“I’m sure we have the hottest cast that has ever played on Sydney stages. With the sensational Marcia Hines and our wonderful ensemble of singers pumping out those disco hits, and the most talented dancers in Australia strutting those moves, I know the audience will be on their feet every night,” said producer John Frost.
“The incredible unforgettable, toe tapping songs in Saturday Night Fever are loved by all, young and old, so it’s sure to be a party every night at the Sydney Lyric.”
Paying homage to the classic movie, Saturday Night Fever is packed with disco classics, including the Bee Gees’ greatest hits ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, ‘Night Fever’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘More Than A Woman’.
The original stage adaptation of Saturday Night Fever began in the West End in 1998 at the London Palladium, where it played for two years, with a lengthy Broadway season commencing in 1999. Productions in Argentina, Holland, Mexico, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and South Africa followed, as well as UK and US tours and a two-year revival on the West End. This brand-new production premiered recently in Paris incorporating more songs and dancing with stunning new choreography, a celebration of one of the most loved films and soundtracks of all time.
Director, Mortimer, explained the technical feats of the show, informing us that there are over thirty choreographed numbers, millions of LED lights, projections and even a revolving stage. Coming off the back of My Fair Lady, Mortimer was approached by the show’s producers and was immediately captured by the prospect of directing this new production.
“I lived it,” she exclaims, “I was in the original Chorus Line when it first came to Sydney and after the show the rest of the cast and I would run down to the theatre to catch the film on screen”.
Mortimer believes that this experience attached to the context of the show’s plot was pivotal in allowing her to stay truthful to the text. However she did admit that, “social media has changed people’s attention span” and believes that theatre must be, “contemporary and modern to captivate people, while still staying truthful to the core of the text.”
When I asked what audiences should expect to see from this contemporary production, she explained, “the immersion and spectacle experience … there is just so much to look at everywhere, but I’m sure the lighting designer will help us to pinpoint where to go.”
I noted how the film of Saturday Night Fever deals with some very heavy issues, some that are still, regrettably very prevalent.
“We don’t purposefully highlight these issues,” she explained, “but we do allow for references to made toward these issues that were brought to light from the film.”
Mortimer added, “no one wants to see the film put directly on stage, but the core story and its themes [instead] and how they can be adapted to a modern audience.”
These issues, such as the treatment of women, is something that the stars of the show found just as important. When speaking to Stephen Mahy (playing Tony’s older brother Frank Jr.), Angelique Cassimatis (playing the neighbourhood girl, Annette, who longs for Tony) and recent NIDA graduate Ryan Morgan (playing the troubled Bobby C), they revealed how shocked they were at the relevance this story can have.
“The treatment of women especially,” Mahy explained, “it was something I found really important in the film and how it translates to the stage.”
Morgan, who’s character ends up finding himself a soon-to-be father in the show added, “my character deals a lot with finding out who he is and his place in the world.”
The cast have been working on the show for just over a week and a half now and what they had to present to us was nothing short of phenomenal. The new version has been arranged and edited by Ryan McBryde and the choreography reflects this. It was electric, extremely fast paced, energetic and mixes contemporary elements with the classic disco moves that are iconic with the show’s era.
When asked about how rehearsals are progressing, Cassimatis discussed how excitingly different they were from past productions.
“Normally in Australian shows it’s a lot of ‘You go there, then you walk over here, now you do this’ but with this show there’s a lot more freedom and collaboration”, she added that, “the singers are in one room and the dancers in the other while we learn our pieces…when we all collaborate it’s like a school reunion.”
Morgan was honest when he admitted, “I’m not that great of a dancer, so seeing the level that I need to be working at has been difficult but an excellent learning curve.”
All three actors showed clear excitement in working on this new production, Mahy said, “the revolving stage is going to be amazing to work with, and with a space like the Lyric, it’s so large, so it really needs something [to fill the space].”
As for the shows leads, Euan Doidge and Melanie Hawkins treated us to a dance duet of their characters Tony and Stepanie. The chemistry between the two was palpable. The amount of trust and support the two have is evident and no doubt will transfer to the space of the Lyric come March.
We were lastly treated to one of the shows later numbers ‘How Deep is Your Love’, sung by Paulini, Bobby Fox, Natalie Conway and Nana Matapule. The talent and harmonies in this were sublime, Paulini especially sounded like her voice was taken right off a soundtrack and blasted through a radio.
Mahy gave us more insight into how these four vocalists fit in the production as, “it’s not so much traditional but has elements of Greek chorus,” with director, Mortimer, adding that the more well-known names of Marcia Hines and Tim Omaji, “have their own roles,” but emphasised that they’re not there to steal the show, instead “when someone like [Marcia] enters, it definitely raises the roof.”
My final question posed was, apart from disco, what genre of music gets you really hyped on a Saturday night?
Mahy: “I love house music honestly…it’s perfect for a lot of clubs.”
Morgan: “Yeah I agree, deep house would be my answer.”
Cassimatis: “I don’t know. I love dancing, so anything that gets me really moving, like Latin or salsa, I’m not sure there’s any of that in Sydney.”
Mortimer: “Swing or jive music…I used to dance with my Dad and my Mum and they used to show me all the moves to make…I love dancing with a partner.”
Saturday Night Fever will be staged at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney from 27 th March 2019.
For more information visit www.saturdaynightfever.com.au
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: From 27 March 2019
Performance Times: Wed-Thurs 7.30pm, Fri-Sat 8pm, Matinees Wed 1pm & Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm*
Prices: From $59.90**
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267
Groups 12+ call 1300 889 278
* Performance times vary weekly ** Transaction fees apply