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This Fever isn't as infectious as it thinks it is!



Review: David Munro

JUDGING by the tumultuous reception it received at the New Wimbledon Theatre last night Saturday Night Fever is a palpable hit.

Professionally packaged and staged by its producers, Robert Stigwood and Adam Spiegel, it looks set to continue its long and successful tour for a while yet

It would seem, therefore, that any review would be superfluous.

However, this critic was not entirely captivated by the evening, and feels that one or two points should be made, and reservations expressed, before the show proceeds on its way to captivate pastures new.

By now, everyone who knows anything about Saturday Night Fever knows that this was the film, which made John Travolta a star.

His jaunty, sexual strut through the streets of Brooklyn, Hollywood was emulated for years by the young males in search of adventure and 'chicks', and the Bee Gees score was plugged in every dance hall, or club, from Penzance to John O' Groats.

Travolta and his white suit was the disco boys' icon and so anyone seeking to emulate his performance on stage must project a charisma equal to, if not identical with, that.

Sadly, Stephane Anelli, as Tony, fails, to my mind, miserably in the role.

To start with, he appears too old for the part, that of a boy of 19, rising 20, which would not matter if he had a personality and charm to match his looks, which are cast in the Travolta mould, and this, for me, he hasn't.

In fact, I am sorry to say, he reminded me of one of the talentless contestants in Stars in Their Eyes who was giving his best as a John Travolta impersonator, without much success.

He is an energetic dancer, but a clumsy one, several times he seemed to miss the beat or faked a piece of footwork and his movements, particularly those with his arms, seemed more rehearsed than natural.

It was also unfortunate for him that he was showcased as the lead dancer in front of a cast whose dancing was more proficent and professional than his was.

In fact, several of the supporting male roles, particularly those in his gang, the Faces (Darren Carnall, Mathew Wolfenden, Teddy French and Stephen Webb) would have been better suited for the role.

As Bobby C, Darren Carnall's rendition of a solo number expressing his heartache and despair was outstanding, as reflected in the applause, which was greater and more heartfelt than for any of Mr Anelli's solos.

As the show, like the film, was created to promote disco music and dancing, the greater part of the evening is taken up by dance.

The plot, which revolves around which of two girls, Stephanie (Zoë Smith), or Annette (Jane Horn), will be Tony's partner for a dance contest and win his love, seems more like an excuse to give the dancers a breather between their very energetic routines, than something to be taken seriously, so I will not comment on the acting, or lack of it, which was meant to give it life and meaning.

As the director/choreographer, Arlene Phillips is steeped in the period, she was the moving spirit behind Hot Gossip; a group which revolutionised dancing on TV among other things.

Her choreography is inventive and vigorous, even though, as I have said, the whole evening is comprised of a series of dance numbers. None of them seemed repetitious and for the curtain call, she produced the most staggering routine of the evening, which brought the audience to its feet and almost convinced me that Mr Anelli could dance after all.

The two female leads had their obligatory solos, which they delivered with brio, and I believe, in tune.

I say that advisedly as, from where I was sitting in the circle, the sound appeared over-amplified and distorted, making it very difficult to hear dialogue or judge the accuracy or otherwise of the singers.

You may say that in a dance-orientated show this is de minimis and you are probably right, but it was an irritation nonetheless.

The rest of the cast, who are, as is inevitable in a show of this nature, too many to mention, sang and danced, as they say, a storm, and restored my faith in, and renewed my admiration for, the new style dancers who are emerging today.

The setting was an austere series of steel framed towers and perambulatory inserts, which appeared whenever the plot reared its ugly head, but otherwise left the stage clear for the dancing.

It was effective and was complementary to the general efficiency and expertise which permeated the production.

It is in short, a good show, superbly danced and expertly staged and well deserving of the reception it received.

Had it a positive and more charismatic leading man, it could have been all that much better; as it was, it left my enthusiasm for it high but well below fever pitch. Which is, under the circumstances, a pity.

Saturday Night Fever, based on the Paramount/RSO film and story by Nik Cohn; adapted for the stage by Nan Knighton, in co-operation with Arlene Phillips, Paul Nicholas and Robert Stigwood.
Music and lyrics mostly by The Bee Gees (B,R & M Gibb).
Director/choreographer, Arlene Phillips; Set and costume designer, David Shields; Lighting, Durham Marenghi; Sound, Mick Potter;
Musical director, Chris Newton.
CAST: Stephane Anelli; Zoe Smith; Jane Horn; Darren Carnall; Teddy French; Stephen Webb; George Clayton; Mathew Wolfenden; Phillip Sutton; Ben Wheeler; Ellie Brogan; Elia Lo Tauro; Paul Isiah Isles; Heisha Marina Atwell; Helen Dixon; David Lyons; Tom Goodall; Paul Omasta; Kathryn Broadribb; Charlie Bull; Alana Phillips; Debbie Joanne; Lydia Grace Hill; Lynsey Platts; Ingrid Berg; Robert Poley; Jamie Hughes-Ward; Craig Haines; Uy de Luca; Antonia Blunden.
Produced by Robert Stigwood in association with Adam Spiegel Production Limited.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Evenings: Mon, 8 - Sat, March 13, 2004, 7.30pm. Matinees: Thurs & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.

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