A Disco Mirror-ball, Reflecting SA’s Finest
by Louw Mulder
For Joburgers it may be a long drive to Pretoria, but Bernard Jay’s production of Saturday Night Fever will be worth the trip.
This uniquely staged production of the Paramount / RSO film featuring John Travolta, sets the scene for a disco-filled experience, featuring some of South Africa’s top theatre performers, and a creative team with numerous awards to complete the fever.
What impressed me the most about this production, was the set and lightning design, by multi-award winner Denis Hutchinson. No doubt that Hutchinson will be nominated for yet another few awards for the work he has done on Saturday Night Fever. He produced what I think is the most innovative and practical set I have seen, with the lighting design bringing the previous century’s disco era right in front of you. I am convinced that this set design will be setting the trend for future theatre designs.
Set in late July, 1977, Saturday Night Fever tells the story about Tony Manero, played by the very talented Daniel Buys. Buys came into the spotlight when he reached the finals of South African Idols, after which he proclaimed the sky as his limit. With a few theatre productions under his belt, like Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys and West Side Story, Buys held nothing back with this role – even showing-off his well-defined body, during a full costume change on stage.
Not shy of any credit, are the rest of the 30-member cast, under the dance captaincy of Vanessa Brierley. Saturday Night Fever features a diverse, and purely South African Cast, with names like Singin’ in the Rain’s Steven van Wyk, Aspoestertjie’s Clint Lesch, and Starlight Express’s Bongi Mthombeni, to name a few. The gorgeous LJ Neilson, and perfectly cast Natasha van der Merwe, were amongst the fairer sex, fighting for Manero’s love.
Other names in this very diverse cast, include Matthwy Berry, Cameron Botha, Londiwe Dhlomo, Nurit Graff, Nathan Kruger, Phumi Mncayi, Toni Jean Erasmus, Charmaine Weir-Smith and Mark Richardson, to name only some.
But the performance of the night, must go to Craig Urbani for playing the duel role of Manero’s dad (Frank Manero), as well as Pete, the very camp and flamboyant gym instructor. Urbani’s experience was evident through his versatility on stage, and the demeanour he adapted complimented the role of the actors in the lead, as effectively as one can expect. His role also contributed immensely to the humour element, which makes this role perfect for him.
Saturday Night Fever is known for its dancing, which makes the work of choreographer, Wesley Swain Lauder, a daunting task. Nevertheless, Lauder created steps and moves that got the whole audience on their feet, energetically executed by the cast he was given to work with. It was just sometimes a little difficult to focus on the main events on stage, with so many things happening at the same time. A busy stage tells a full story, but I think during one or two instances, it overshadowed the leads.
What made up for this minor piece of criticism, is the rest of the production. Award-winning MD, Rowan Bakker showed why he can be seen as one of SA’s leading Musical Directors. Bakker, who recently lifted his baton in Sweeney Todd and Sister Act, took this score under his direction, creating the necessary sounds, energizing everything happening on stage, with his 10-piece band in the pit. The sound design of Trevor Peters, Sarah Roberts designing the costumes, and Greg Homann as director, completed the creative team, adding fever to a Saturday night.
Overall, this production is a feel-good, sit back and enjoy musical, created to entertain. Saturday Night Fever is a Mirror-ball of South-Africa’s finest, reflecting all the good reasons why we can be proud of our own.
Saturday Night Fever will run at the South African State Theatre, till October the 9th. Tickets are available at Computicket, but Stage and Screen is proud to give away 10 sets of tickets, for Saturday, 1 October. You can enter here.