“Three men inspired” was the caption to a notorious photograph of the Bee Gees in their mid-Seventies pomp, their long hair streaming in the current of a wind machine, like a cross between rock gods and Biblical prophets. They had attained this status through the creation of an album that defines the Disco Era and provided the soundtrack for a low-budget movie which took the world by storm and made John Travolta a star. It was, of course, Saturday Night Fever. The idea of inspiration is not far off the mark, for the three brothers put together in less than a week the songs whose driving rhythms overlaid with high-pitched harmony filled the ears of all who had ears to hear in 1977.
The New Wimbledon Theatre was absolutely packed for the first night of this short run of a musical based upon the movie – part of a recent trend reversing the traditional direction in which a film is made out of a stage production. The stage production here is slick and inventive, and the cast do a decent job with the story line about a young man at the bottom of the social scale in the Italian-American community of Brooklyn and his problems with family, friends and – in particular – girls, all fuelled by a cocktail of testosterone, machismo and filial piety. There is plenty of bad language, omitted from the PG version of the movie.
But what the audience came for, and what they got in abundance, was the music and the dancing. The excellent band pump out the infectious rhythms of those disco classics, driven along by a pulsating bass. The Bee Gees themselves are impersonated by three singers who capture the high-pitched harmonies remarkably well. For the whole thing to sound pretty much like the studio album (only louder) is quite a feat. Combine that with the superb disco dancing, and the effect is electric.
Richard Winsor has the John Travolta character off to a tee – the slender physique, the sharp clothes, the explosive energy on the dance floor. Indeed, one’s physique could hardly be anything but slender, with the punishing routine of rehearsing and performing those dances. And not just him, but the whole ensemble give the dancing all that they’ve got. The music and the choreography make a stunning combination – The New Wimbledon Theatre will have no trouble filling seats in the week ahead.