It is never easy to take a show as popular as Saturday Night Fever and make it your own. What do you retain from the original? What do you change? How do you capture the magic that John Travolta, in the iconic role of Tony Manero, exuded on the dancefloor in the 1977 movie of the same name?
Saturday Night Fever – The Musical, its first Asian touring show in almost a decade, has just finished its month-long run in Manila. It will open at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 4.
The script took more than six months to be perfected, and the result is a brand-new version of Saturday Night Fever that “is darker, but equally as fun as previous versions”, according to director Bobby Garcia.
“It retains the grit and danger of the film, yet still has the exciting and exuberant dance moments the audience wants to see,” he says of the musical which features hits from The Bee Gees like How Deep Is Your Love, Jive Talkin’, More Than a Woman, Night Fever, Stayin’ Alive and Tragedy.
Saturday Night Fever tells the tale of a young man dreaming about more than what his seedy neighbourhood is able to offer him, a tale that many can relate to, regardless of their age, he reckons.
The cast of Saturday Night Fever – The Musical is led by Brandon Rubendall (original cast member of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark) as Tony and Jenna Rubaii (Fifty Four Forever, Grease) as Stephanie Mangano.
In an interview earlier this year, Garcia, 46, mentioned that he knew Rubendall, 30, was perfect for the lead role the moment he walked into the audition room.
Now, after working with the cast, he confirms that his gut feeling was indeed right.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better Tony Manero. I think we have one of the best in the history of this show!” he enthuses.
Likewise, he relates that it was an absolute joy working with Rubaii, 25, and commended her for bringing a “quiet strength” and truthfulness to Stephanie.
One imagines that it was a blast to the past to explore the “colourful and dynamic” setting of Saturday Night Fever – The Musical, set in an era that was a “more innocent time”.
“The world did not rely on technology nearly as much as everyone does now. It is a story that is nostalgic to many people,” acknowledges Garcia, adding that culture and family values are deeply entrenched in society and are not easily forgotten.
And then of course, there is also the music by The Bee Gees – something that he describes as “legendary”, and undisputedly a big part of the appeal.
Having grown up with both the music and the movie, Garcia is no stranger to the allure of this show.
“It was great to revisit that period in our recent past. It was a big part of my life, so to be able to retell this story in a new way was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he shares.
The collaboration with choreographer Vince Pesce is also a plus point.
“We have a collaborative process that stems from mutual respect and admiration. It was effortless to create a show with him. That’s very rare … but what can I say about a Tony Award-winning choreographer!” he says.
Having dabbled in film, television, stage and live concert entertainment, Garcia certainly has his fingers in many pies. Notable stage productions include The Addams Family, Cinderella, Hairspray, The King & I, The Little Mermaid, Rent and Shrek. He was associate director for Miss Saigon and was Hong Kong Disneyland’s first show director when the park opened in 2005.
But Saturday Night Fever – The Musical is an interesting undertaking that is clearly close to Garcia’s heart.
“I really wanted to honour the source material and really tell the coming-of-age story of a young man in a rough neighbourhood,” he says of the musical.
To the audience, he would like them to approach it this way: “Watch it like it is new, yet feel the roots of where it all begins.”
Saturday Night Fever – The Musical plays at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 4 to 13. 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 a RM4 ticketing fee). For more information, call 03-9222 8811. To book tickets, visit milestone-production.com. The Star is the official media partner. You also stand a chance to win prizes worth up to RM100,000 in the Night Fever Lucky Draw. The event is presented by Milestone Production and supported by Malaysia Major Events, Istana Budaya, and Gold Sponsor Munchy’s.