The original film Saturday Night Fever is often assumed to be just a disco-dancing glitz-fest by people who have never seen it. In reality, of course, it is a dark and powerful drama with a brilliant and disturbingly honest script. The stage musical, however, reduces it to an empty dance spectacle and an incompetent mess, to boot.
Only one aspect of the stage show can be said to work: the transformation of the film’s soundtrack songs into integrated character songs is almost seamless, given that the songs were already fully integrated into the story content to begin with (“Stayin’ Alive” as Tony’s establishing number, “If I Can’t Have You” as Annette’s love theme, etc.). However, the bulk of the film’s songs were also sung by the Bee Gees in their trademark falsetto style, and they sound awkward and wrong sung in the normal vocal pitch used in the stage productions, which don’t even try to approximate their original sound.
But the bigger problem is that the stage show eliminates most of the movie’s actual content in an attempt to make the material more marketable, resulting in a show that has more in common with a more dance-oriented Mamma Mia than with the original film. The dancing was by all accounts excellent, but the film was about dance as a form of solace for the desperate, not dance as a medium to entertain a bunch of ignorant middle-class baby-boomers nostalgic over a film that they either don’t remember clearly or have never actually seen.
Of all the stage versions made of great musical movies, this is one of the worst and most insulting, and I cannot say enough about my disgust at the way it butchers one of the greatest musical movies of all time.