StageArt have yet again demonstrated, with great fervour, that they’re a force to be reckoned with in the Melbourne theatre scene. Continuing their commitment to providing audiences with rare and innovative theatrical experiences, the company presented the West End revival production of Saturday Night Fever. This production, drawing from the film of the same name, and packed with the amazingly time-enduring 70s hits of The Bee Gees, provides a sometimes devastating portrayal of the strained social climate of 70s Brooklyn and the frivolous yet often necessary escapism that disco culture provided. Throughout this particular production, the power of music and dance as two universal languages coming together to illuminate and inspire was consistently evidence and exceptionally electric.
Saturday Night Fever is a massive production. The grandeur of past iterations it is perhaps one its greatest draw cards. Direction by Robbie Carmellotti was clearly very calculated and well considered given the very intimate nature of the Chapel. What was incredibly engaging was the obvious work that had gone into principal character development, given that many of the leading cast have surprising complexities associated with their characters. These intricacies were well received and made for a much stronger audience relationship.
There were moments, however, that the small space did seem to take away from the bigger picture. Often, despite obvious planning, scene transitions appeared rather clunky and confusing as the large cast moved around the stage. It also made for some confusion as to the location of the scenes and their relatively to one another. This was not always helped by the often ambiguous nature of the set. There were also many moments that saw ensemble scattered around watching on as the action unfolded before them. From the audience, it was at times difficult to determine whether or not these characters were actually in the scene and aware of the goings on or whether they were simply used to frame the action. This was primarily due to inconsistent reactions and engagement levels offered up by the performers.
The lighting design was pivotal in this production, particularly due to the very stark and often sudden changes in mood, tension, conflict and attitude. As always the design by Jason Bovaird was incredibly moving and had a great capacity to evoke the necessary emotions in the audience. In saying this, at times the intimate nature of Chapel did find the lighting come across as a little ‘much’ and a little bright. This could have very well been a different experience depending on the seat you were sitting in. One could only imagine with great delight this design in a larger environment. It is perhaps also important to note that the lighting very quickly became a necessary extension to the set to denote location and time which was a very much appreciated component.
Despite this mention of space, what was exceptional was the ability to very comfortably and effectively execute large, full cast dance numbers. Quality was never compromised for the room that was on offer. Choreography by Luke Alleva was phenomenal and the cast certainly rose to the occasion every single time. Strong, sharp and always with purpose, these era appropriate and energy packed pieces were stunning to watch and the highlight of the production. The passion and commitment shown by the cast as they moved was truly captivating and a real joy to witness.
It would be completely remiss to not commend the musical direction of Tony Toppi. Vocally, the cast sounded absolutely amazing. Musically, Toppi certainly had his work cut out for him with the on stage cast playing a variety of instruments throughout – some performers juggling between three instruments as well singing and dancing. For the most part this innovative addition was mesmerising. At times, the music did not sound as tight as it perhaps could have, was a little overbearing and the specific combination of instruments sometimes sounded a little odd, but given the massive undertaking that this would have been, and the immersive, realistic and charismatic experience it offered, this was very easily overlooked. Some very special musical moments certainly injected a real sense of heart into this production.
The production’s principal players were exceptionally well cast. Duane McGregor, Joseph Spanti and Dean Schulz bounced brilliantly off one another and showed a true commitment to authenticity. Schulz especially demonstrated a convincingly tragic and beautiful rawness in his portrayal of ‘Bobby’ who encounters some pretty tough times.
As ‘Annette’, Elise Brennan captivates the room, exposing a vulnerability sometimes uncomfortable to witness, but incredibly striking. Her vocals only adding to her intensity as a character.
Paul Watson’s ‘Frank’ was stellar. His depiction of such a broken man was exemplary and worked brilliantly to allow the audience an opportunity to better understand how some of the other characters in the show tick and perhaps an eye into the similarly volatile lives they too may live. His ability to alternate between ‘Frank’ and ‘Monty’ was sensation and a true credit to him.
Sheridan Anderson as ‘Stephanie’ was impressive throughout. She simply was the character through and through. Her charisma, cheek and added vulnerability worked in conjunction with one another seamlessly. Her interactions with Mike Snell were exceptionally engaging.
Snell was certainly a knockout in his own right and definitely stole the show. While he may have been pushing it a little to pass as 19 on the surface, this was very quickly forgotten as audience members were met with an incredibly authentic performance that saw great growth and a brilliantly strong audience-actor relationship. His energy was electric and his dancing was entrancing. He certainly set the bar.
As previously mentioned, the ensemble, particularly in the dance numbers were a real treat to watch. Their energy and versatility should be congratulated.
Saturday Night Fever is certainly a huge show and while it would have made the experience all the more enjoyable to see it in a less intimate environment, audiences will not be disappointed with the effort that cast and creatives alike have put into presenting yet another piece that Melbourne theatregoers would have otherwise not experienced.
Saturday Night Fever is now playing at Chapel Off Chapel www.chapeloffchapel.com.au