Next week sees disco fever come to Shrewsbury as the all-singing, all-dancing production of Saturday Night Fever comes to town. Katy Rink spoke to lead Jack Wilcox who plays Tony Manero - from deadbeat to disco diva!
- Saturday Night Fever is at Theatre Severn from October 4 - 8
Look at the song list for Saturday Night Fever - and you’ll realise it’s the soundtrack to your life! There aren’t many hits you won’t have heard of, from ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and ‘How Deep is Your Love’, to ‘Disco Inferno’ and the rest - this Bee Gees album is in our blood.
The 1977 John Travolta classic film has been intelligently translated for stage by Robert Stigwood, in collaboration with Bill Oakes. The new Bill Kenwright Productions musical retells the story of Tony Manero and his reckless road to dancing success - but with a few twists.
Jack Wilcox, who plays Tony Manero in the stage adaptation, alongside Rebekah Bryant in the role of Tony's dance partner Stephanie, has just got back from Belfast - the second stop on his UK tour after Milton Keynes, and is looking forward to opening in Shrewsbury next week (October 4-8).
He said: “It’s been wonderful so far. The audience is always up on its feet at the end, which is a good sign. The music is sensational - we have three guys who play the Bee Gees (Drew Ferry, Oliver Thomson and AJ Jenks) throughout the whole show, their vocals are fantastic.
“For those who remember the period - the big hair and sequins and big flares, it’s a real trip down memory lane.”
Jack said that although there is a clear nod to the hit film version, the show is not a ‘copy and paste job’: “The script is very dense, it’s not a jukebox musical, there’s a lot to it. You don’t have to know the music, although I guarantee you’ll enjoy it - but it’s far more than that. There’s a very deep, very dense script. In my role (Tony Manero), it really takes me on a journey throughout the whole show.
“You start with Tony surrounded by harsh realities 1970 Brooklyn, in a dead end job, with not much to write home about. His dad has just lost his job and he’s looking for a better life, something that will bring him fulfilment.
“We think he’s found that, but there’s a big twist at the end, and we find out that maybe what he was striving for wasn’t the right thing. It’s not all fluffy and light, it’s actually quite hard hitting. The themes touch on sexism, racism and suicide - we wanted it to be real to the 1970s.”
Jack explains that there were originally two version of the 1977 film, with the original film certified as an 18+ (the Bill Kenwright musical production is recommended for age 14+).
“It was pretty gritty and hard-hitting,” Jack explains. “There was quite strong language, and it touched on abuse. But then they released a PG version as well.
“This musical finds the middle ground. It doesn’t get rid of the challenging subjects. We still want the audience to think and go away enriched, or challenged, but it’s not as shocking.”
Obviously, for many, it’ll be the hit songs we go for - Jack says he didn’t realise how many hits the Bee Gees had until he started work! “I grew up listening to their hits in the car - my mum loved them!” he says.
But every bit as compelling as the music is the dancing - with choreography by Olivier award-winning Bill Deamer (he won the gong for the 2013 West End production of Top Hat).
“He has set these massive, glamorous big disco theme set pieces,” Jack said. “The glitter ball comes down, and you have these really fantastic, energetic, all-out numbers. It is a bit exhausting, but with the music you can’t help but move, it really keeps you going.”
Jack studied musical theatre at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts and has had multiple roles in the West End, singing, dancing and acting. He’ll be touring with Saturday Night Fever until the end of November and is looking forward to a ‘nice restful December’ before he gets booked up again.
“We go from contract to contract and try not to think too much ahead,” he said. His last role before Saturday Night Fever was Anything Goes at The Barbican, where he got to understudy the lead role. “It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate with some of the roles I’ve had so far. I’m open to whatever comes along - the stage work has been going really well and I love it. In a way you tend to become a little bit pigeon-holed in one area. I guess I’m known for being a song and dance man.”
Jack hopes that when he looks out at the sea of faces in Shrewsbury, he might just spot a few Tony Manero iconic white suits. And he’s promised to buy a drink for anyone who dresses up (just kidding…).
Saturday Night Fever is at Theatre Severn from October 4 - 8, produced by Bill Kenwright by arrangement with the Robert Stigwood Organisation. Tickets £32.50 - £53 HERE