Review: Saturday Night Fever at the Orchard Theatre

There can be few movies more iconic than Saturday Night Fever. Its place in popular culture is so established that even if you’ve never seen the film, you almost certainly still know the music and the dance moves, and you’ve probably performed some version of the latter to the former, most likely at a school disco or cheesy student club night. You also, I’d guess, know that John Travolta is Tony Manero, and like most people, you can’t quite imagine anyone else filling his shiny shoes and sharp white suit.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Tony is a young man in 1970s Brooklyn with little to look forward to in life; he still lives at home with his disappointed and unhappily married parents, and works during the week in a local paint store, with no obvious prospect of moving up in the world despite being very good at his job. The one bright spot on the horizon is Saturday nights at local disco 2001 Odyssey, where Tony can do what he loves: dance. When the club announces an upcoming dance contest, he teams up with new love interest Stephanie Mangano (Kate Parr) – funnily enough, the one woman in town who doesn’t want to sleep with him – to claim the prize, and with it her heart.

So given the tough act he has to follow, how does Richard Winsor fare in Bill Kenwright’s stage version? Actually, not bad. He’s got the classic moves and Manero swagger down, and leads the ensemble dance numbers under the 2001 Odyssey mirrorball with the cool confidence of a man who knows all eyes – particularly the female ones – are on him. For Act 1, that’s pretty much all the plot requires, but as events take a darker turn in Act 2 Winsor also shows us glimpses of the vulnerability behind the arrogance, and finally gives us a reason to root for Tony despite his many flaws.

This change in tone is reflected in the show’s other big star attraction: the soundtrack. While Act 1 packs in the legendary disco hits, from Stayin’ Alive to You Should Be Dancing, after the interval the pace slows, with numbers including Too Much Heaven and How Deep Is Your Love (and also Tragedy, during which everyone of a certain age could be seen physically restraining themselves from launching into the Steps dance routine). Almost all the musical numbers are performed by the show’s very own – and very convincing – Bee Gees, Edward Handoll, Alastair Hill and Matt Faull, but every now and again a key character breaks into their own solo, some of which fit what’s happening in the story better than others. Though all the songs are well performed, this lack of consistency in the show’s format jars somewhat, and feels like an unnecessarily confusing distraction.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

There’s no doubt, however, that the production succeeds 100% in capturing the spirit of disco – from Bill Deamer’s irresistible choreography to Nick Richings’ lighting design and Gary McCann’s set and costumes, which between them bring Odyssey 2001 vividly to life both on stage and off. Because the songs stand alone as hits in their own right, they take centre stage throughout; it’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and energy of the group numbers, or to feel a sudden urge to get out on the dance floor yourself. The show does have its flaws, and it might not be the most memorable start to the theatre-going year, but that doesn’t mean you won’t head home with a skip in your step, all the same.

Saturday Night Fever is at the Orchard Theatre until 12th January, then continues on tour.

Interview: Henry Moss, Quadruple Threat

Following a sell-out run at the Sydney Fringe Festival, Australian musical theatre performer Henry Moss returns to Islington’s Hen and Chickens next weekend with his one-man show Quadruple Threat. Londoners have two opportunities left to see the show described in a rave five-star review from LondonTheatre1 as a “delightful and delectable exploration of the cut-throat and ever-unforgiving entertainment industry”.

In the show, Henry – who also writes and directs – plays Sir Harry Ledgerman, a musical theatre star and national treasure, who after a public mental breakdown is desperate to revamp his career. 

Photo credit: Seann Miley Moore

Quadruple Threat may be the campest 45 minutes of your life,” says Henry, whose influences include Graham Norton and Australian comedian Chris Lilley, of the TV series Summer Heights High. “I don’t stop to take a breath. I play egomaniac Harry Ledgerman – the struggling artist we all know, who aims to promote his tell-all celebrity memoir Quadruple Threat by hosting a series of motivational workshops – as well as his obnoxious guest speakers, LA bombshell Brandi Straussberg and quintessential Aussie bloke Bruce McDingy, who each claim they have the secret to success. I also morph into Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Graham Norton and Dame Judi Dench.”

The show features dozens of musical theatre hits, all performed by Henry, accompanied by renowned cabaret pianist Sarah Bodalbhai. “I saw Sarah play at a hip hop gig last October,” says Henry. “I contacted her straight away and we met to discuss the show. Sarah is an incredible and versatile pianist who effortlessly improvises and segues from song to song. I am so lucky to have her accompany me. We get on like a house on fire, and the audience loves the battered and long-lasting relationship between Harry and Sarah.”

So is Quadruple Threat just a show for musical theatre fans? “Of course not,” says Henry. “It’s for any one who loves satire, has had their own series of knock backs and is intrigued by the madness that is showbiz.

“Musical theatre fans will recognise hits packed into the cabaret, but there are many pop hits from Stevie Wonder, Britney Spears, Ray Charles and Edith Piaf to name a few – that the audience recognise, roll their eyes and get the irony as I burst into these show stoppers.

“My favourite is probably my 1996 Judi Dench rendition of Send In the Clowns – it comes to Harry in the show as he feels he has ‘mis-timed his life’. There’s a hilarious tension between the tragedy of the music contrasted to Harry being so ridiculous and neurotic.”

As for Henry’s top tip for making it in showbiz? “I’ll let you know when I get there… In the mean time – a great fake tan and a whole lot of hairspray.”

Catch Quadruple Threat at the Hen and Chickens on 5th and 6th August at 3pm.

Smile! A Fundraising Concert for Nathan

On 12th February, the Orchard Theatre in Dartford will be hosting Smile! a fundraising concert featuring a stellar cast of West End performers, in support of seven-year-old Nathan Box. Nathan has a rare brain tumour called Hypothalamic Harmartoma, which causes him to have more than 25 seizures daily and is having a devastating effect on his everyday life and development. He recently appeared on ITV News – this video contains some upsetting footage.

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The good news is that Nathan’s condition is curable; the bad is that the necessary treatment’s only available in Texas. His family have successfully raised the £100k they need to pay for the treatment itself, but now need to find an additional £50k to cover flights, accommodation, extra tests, scans, travel insurance and any added costs they may encounter when Nathan’s in the States.

Tickets for Smile! cost just £30, which is a bargain price to see a cast of over 100 including the likes of Lyn Paul (Blood Brothers), Simon Lipkin (Avenue Q), Dean Chisnall (Shrek The Musical) and Hugh Maynard (Miss Saigon), along with a live 42-piece orchestra led by the current musical director of Blood Brothers. The performers are all giving their time for free and every penny collected from ticket sales will go to Nathan. And thanks to an anonymous donor, all the money raised by the concert up to £20k will be doubled, meaning the family could raise as much as £40k in one night.

all-so-far

For anyone who can’t make it to the concert but would like to show their support, there’ll also be a sponsored seat scheme. This again costs £30, and every sponsored seat purchased is donated to Ellenor Children’s Hospice, allowing a child in their care a free night out at the theatre.

This promises to be a spectacular night of musical theatre, for a really good cause. To book tickets visit the Orchard Theatre website, or to purchase a sponsored seat, call the Ticket Office on 01322 220000.

Or find out more and help spread the word by following Smile For Nathan on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Here’s the full cast list so far:

LYN PAUL– New Seekers, Blood Brothers, Taboo, Cabaret
HUGH MAYNARD– John in Miss Saigon (West End & DVD), Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, A Christmas Carol, The Lion King, Notre Dame De Paris, Follies, We Will Rock You, Dancing in the Street, Sister Act and many more!
SIMON LIPKIN– West End Productions of Avenue Q, Rock of Ages , Guys and Dolls along side Rebel Wilson, Spamalot, Assassins, Disaster Musical as well as many more!
DEAN CHISNALL– Shrek in Shrek- The Musical ( Theatre Royal Drury Lane West End & UK and Ireland Tour), Love Never Dies (Adelphi), La Cage aux Folles (Playhouse), Never Forget (Savoy and tour), Evita (Adelphi), The Women in White (Palace)
JOE SLEIGHT– Wicked (WestEnd) ‘Cover Boq’, Midsummer Nights Dream (Middle Temple Hall London) ‘Puck’, Blood Brothers (UK Tour) ‘Perkins’ & ‘Peter Pan in Peter Pan at the Wycombe Swan’
JENNA LEE JAMES– Scaramouche, Meatloaf and KillerQueen in ‘We Will Rock You’, of whom she is the ONLY person in world to have played all 3 female leads. Narrator in ‘Joseph’, Mary in ‘Tonight’s The Night’ & Alternate Donna in ‘Mamma Mia’
PAUL WILKINS– Marius in Les Miserables (West End, Asia, Manila, Singapore & Dubai)
MICHELLE PENTECOST– Grace Farrell – Annie, Vava – Paraside Moscow, Elphaba – Wicked, & Eva Peron – Evita
NANCY HILL– Grease (West End), Tracy in Hairspray, Sweeney Todd (ENO) with Emma Thompson
LAURA HARRISON– Lucille Frank in the Hope Mill Theatres production of ‘Parade’, Donna Marie/Miss Jones Cover Mrs Lyons in ‘Blood Brothers’, Tiger Lily in ‘Peter Pan’, Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
JODIE BETH MEYER– Understudy for Jodie Prenger in Tell Me on a Sunday, Petra in A Little Night Music, High School Musical (UK Tour), Aspects of Love (UK Tour), Pirates of Penzance, Svetlana in Chess and Eponine in Les Miserables (Channel Island tours)
MELANIE BRIGHT- We Will Rock You (UK Tour) The Who’s Tommy (English Theatre Frankfurt and European Tour) Quasimodo (King’s Head) The Gypsy ‘Acid Queen’ in Tommy (Winter Gardens) and Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre) where she understudied and played the role of Fantine. Film includes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros) and Delilah in Samson and Delilah.
DEAN KILFORD– Perkins and Understudy Eddie – Blood Brothers (UK Tour), Dandini/Buttons- Cinderella, Dick Whittington- Dick Whittington, Sunday Night at the Palladium & is the current host and commentator for The Non League Show!
All images used with permission from Nathan’s family.