There are iconic scenes from show business that have been burned into our brain through the passage of time. Michael Jackson unveiling the moonwalk at Motown’s 25th anniversary in 1983 was a moment when time stood still. Likewise, the scene where John Travolta busts the “bus stop” on the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever.
How many of us bad dancers have unintentionally (or worse, intentionally) copped a couple of moves from it? Scary thought. But such is the impact of the movie and the dance subculture it spawned back in 1977.
The revelry is set to continue when Saturday Night Fever The Musical returns to Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 4-13, having first played there in 2004. The musical hasn’t toured this region in eight years, making it an extra special treat for fans to relive the disco heyday, a time when Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were kings of the dance hall.
The Gibb brothers in Bee Gees, writers of the titular track, while renowned for a glorious and respected music career in the 1960s and early 1970s, suddenly found themselves right smack in the eye of the disco storm. A bunch of tracks that were originally meant for the band’s album Children Of The World, suddenly found themselves part of a low-budget movie.
The soundtrack was reviled by critics and revered by the masses. Love it or hate it though, it sold 40 million copies and has the distinction of being the highest selling movie soundtrack of all time.
It spawned six US No 1 hits, topping the charts there for nearly half a year (24 weeks) and in Britain for 18 weeks. The disco juggernaut contained the smash hits Staying Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, Jive Talking, More Than A Woman, Night Fever and You Should Be Dancing, tracks commissioned by Bee Gees business manager Robert Stigwood specifically for the movie.
The plot for the movie itself was a con job, one based on a tale titled “Tribal Rites Of The New Saturday Night”, written by appropriately-named British writer Nik Cohn.
Disco may seem to have burst its seams with the movie, but the genre had already infiltrated the airwaves by the time the movie hit the screens. And while so much of the movie is inextricably associated with the music, Saturday Night Fever’s influence reaches far deeper and across a wide cross section of society.
Main character, Tony Manero, played by a young and upcoming John Travolta, can be described as a social outcast, yet, viewers are drawn to him because of his fractured family life and dead-end job at a lowly-paying hardware store, a predicament the working class can easily identify with.
Then there’s the escapism – to get away from the drudgery of daily existence in a dodgy neighbourhood and party at a discotheque come the weekend. The backdrop of hedonism may have been questionable for wholesome family viewing, but its grittiness was real and appealing.
Also portrayed in the movie is the malaise of social indifference, where within New York, the affluent inhabit Manhattan while the working class are consigned to burrows in Brooklyn, again a theme all too familiar with society’s lower crusts. And of course, everyone has a soft spot for a story that sees the underdog come good.
Then there’s the fashion sense that was generated. Gold chains, coiffed hair, platform shoes, polyester shirts and bell bottom pants – de rigueur for the time. And to strut it like Travolta was a rite of passage for any young man in the coming of age phase of his life.
Saturday Night Fever divides opinion right down the middle – it’s either a source of misty-eyed nostalgia or utter disdain. But with the sort of reverence that continues to be attached to it for nearly four decades now, it’s hard to imagine the picture of Travolta in white pointing to the sky evergoing away.
Saturday Night Fever The Musical plays at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 4-13. It 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. Show time is 8.30pm with additional 3pm shows 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