More Sunday morning than Saturday night

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The Independent Online
WE ARE in the middle of a Seventies revival. And if you needed proof of that, you only had to be at the London Palladium last night to hear the rousing cheer well before the show had started for the Bee Gees taking their seats in the circle.

The brothers Gibb famous falsetto has been all that was missing from the current Seventies retro. Now it, or an approximation to it, can be sampled every night in Saturday Night Fever's first stage incarnation.

Last night's world premiere of the stage adaptation of the 1977 movie which made a white-suited John Travolta a star, and disco dancing a phenomenon, had continuity in its producer Robert Stigwood, who also produced the movie and discovered the Bee Gees in the Sixties as well.

In a celebrity audience, Mr Stigwood was joined by the Duchess of York, Lord Lloyd-Webber, Sir Tim Rice and Sir Cameron Mackintosh among others to welcome the Seventies back. And there could be few more fitting ways to do it than with a good production of Saturday Night Fever.

Unfortunately, this was not a particularly good production. The show was choreographed and directed by Arlene Phillips, founder of the Seventies dance troupe Hot Gossip.

The setpiece disco numbers were slick and occasionally spectacular; but slick choreography does not a musical make. The show lacked tension, a sense of danger, a sense of New York, a sense of the repressed working- class life that made paint shop worker Tony Manero long for his Saturday nights on the perspex floor of the Odyssey 2001 disco.

He and his friends looked and sometimes sounded like clean-cut British actors, not sexually threatening, aggressive New Yorkers.

Family tensions and battles between the sexes seemed to be represented by exaggerated gesticulations. And there was a general lack of charisma in a cast certainly not short on energy, but uncertain of their individual characterisations. The director also seemed to miss the opportunity of making a real dramatic contrast between the frustrations of the hero's home life and his escape at the disco.

In the Travolta part Adam Garcia, in his first West End starring role, sang well and danced his socks off, but could and should have seemed more dangerous. He and the other principals were not always helped by microphones attached to their faces which made the sound a little too loud and occasionally distorted.

The still popular movie of Saturday Night Fever made it cool for guys to dance rather than drink beer. Its soundtrack sold an astonishing 31 million copies, and Travolta is still going strong.

The stage show - altogether too antiseptic - will need to evolve substantially during its run to have any sort of comparable success.