Catch the disco buzz as Saturday Night Fever: The Musical is set to play at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur in September. Experience the passion and the spirit of the heady 1970s with this iconic musical. Photo: Nobby Clark
Can funny with a touch of seriousness work? That seems to be the case with the upcoming Asian tour production of Saturday Night Fever The Musical, which makes a return to Kuala Lumpur this September, after having last played here in 2004.
This new tour production from Broadway, brought to Malaysia by Milestone Production, plays at Istana Budaya from Sept 4 to 13.
To the general theatre enthusiast, the iconic Saturday Night Fever storyline is a familiar one, but there is also a need to look at the stage musical version being more than a pastiche of the origins of disco. Since the 1977 classic movie, it’s almost as if the storyline has become secondary, especially when it made its debut on the theatrical stage.
Those who have followed the Saturday Night Fever phenomenon over the decades are aware of its history but some stunning revelations surfaced over the subsequent decades.
The story is based on a 1976 New York magazine article by British rock journalist Nik Cohn titled Tribal Rites Of The New Saturday Night. It was the basis, alongside American screenwriter Norman Wexler’s 1977 screenplay, for the plot and characters in the movie itself.
Originally, the article was published as a piece of factual reporting. However, around the time of the 20th anniversary of the film, the article was revealed as actually a work of fiction, as Cohn himself admitted. Assigned to write an article about the 1970s disco scene, Cohn, then a newcomer to the US, was unfamiliar with the American working-class subculture he was trying to cover. Instead, the character who became Tony Manero in the movie was based on an English Mod acquaintance of Cohn’s from the 1960s.
Nevertheless, this work was successful due to similarities he found in mod and disco subcultures. Both emphasised fashion and music, and the characters came from the working class.
To cut a long story short, by 2010, Saturday Night Fever was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the US Library of Congress and slated to be preserved for all time in its National Film Registry.
It would be 21 years before the movie ended up on stage, premiering at London’s West End in 1998 and New York’s Broadway in 1999.
Some Malaysian fans have already experienced the musical when, back in 2004, the Australian production made it to Istana Budaya (with The Star as media partner then too). It made history as the most successful international theatre staging in Malaysia and ran for a phenomenal six weeks. It’s likely that this first Asian tour of Saturday Night Fever The Musical in eight years is set to reignite the musical scene here. It also comes with a revamped script.
The entertainment value behind this production definitely holds its own, but an added contemporary edginess is always most welcome to get new fans through the Istana Budaya doors.
Recent British productions, as reported by Broadwayworld.com, have already been described as more fearless, provocative even, by staying true to the authentic, gritty and tough uncompromising realism depicted in the landmark film, which starred then up-and-coming actor John Travolta as Tony Manero and Karen Lynn Gorney as Stephanie Mangano.
Mirroring the film’s story and the soul of club culture back then, Saturday Night Fever The Musical tells the tale of Tony, a young Italian-American man with a dead-end job and an extraordinary ability to dance. Manero has only one ambition: to become the disco king. When he meets Stephanie, who also dreams of a life beyond the city, they decide to train together for a dance competition, and their lives change forever.
If anything, the lead actors in Saturday Night Fever The Musical production in Kuala Lumpur are already worth the price of admission.
Eye-catching Broadway actor Brandon Rubendall (Spider-Man on Broadway) portrays Travolta’s iconic role on stage, while Jenna Rubaii (American Idiot) plays his partner Stephanie. It is directed by multi-award winning New York-trained director Bobby Garcia, who is a Canadian citizen born in the Philippines.
So no fun then? A serious musical? Not so fast. The nostalgia that Saturday Night Fever The Musical evokes is half the fun. Nostalgia, in that it has now been 39 years since the original feature article, 38 years since the hit movie, 17 years since the musical debut, and 11 years since we last saw the musical version here.
There’s still a lot of fun to be had, no worries there.
There’s the energetic disco music made famous in the movie and soundtrack by not only the Bee Gees, but also KC & The Sunshine Band, the Tramps, Tavares, MFSB, Kool & the Gang and singers like Yvonne Elliman. If any singular piece of music could embody the disco phenomenon of the 1970s, then the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is the album to cut the mustard.
You’ll get to hear the cast renditions of these classics and with a musical powered by the likes of Staying Alive, Night Fever, More Than A Woman, If I Can’t Have You, How Deep Is Your Love, Jive Talkin’, Disco Inferno, and Boogie Shoes, you know this is one party not to be missed.
If you like the fashion of the times then you’re looking at everything from the flared skirts and bell-bottom flared pants, the high heels and platform boots. You can probably come dressed in your giant cuffs and wing collar with your medallion hanging down your neck, and who knows, there might be a chance for some audience participation.
And the disco dancing can come in many forms from the shuffle to the hustle, the bus stop, the finger point and strut, the hot step right down to all sorts of Latin dancing.
Come September you’ll be in for the disco ride to remember. Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’, indeed.
Saturday Night Fever The Musical plays at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 4 to 13. Show times are at 8.30pm with an additional 3pm show on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are RM568, RM398, RM338, RM268 and RM138 (inclusive of 6% GST but excluding an RM4 ticketing fee). Early bird discounts end on July 14. For more info, contact 03-9222 8811 or book tickets at www.ticketcharge.com.my and www.milestone-production.com
Saturday Night Fever The Musical is presented by Milestone Production and supported by Malaysia Major Events, a division of Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau, an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Istana Budaya is the venue partner while The Star is the official media partner.