Saturday Night fever instantly conjures up the image of John Travolta strutting his stuff to the sounds of the Bee Gees even to those who weren’t around in 1977 when the movie came out.
Filling his shoes in the stage show which arrives at the Sheffield Lyceum next week is Richard Winsor who was tasked with making the role his own.
“John Travolta’s is such an iconic image and I had to try and capture some of that in the performance and also the skill in it,” he says. “But I had to play myself through the role of Tony Manero and find the truth for myself of the character and not to mimic his Tony Manero.
Tony is a wayward Italian-American in Brooklyn in 1976 with a dead-end job and a bleak family life whose only escape is drinking, getting off with the girls – and dancing.
His one ambition is to become the disco king. Then he meets Stephanie (Kate Parr), the one girl resistant to his charms but shares dreams of a world beyond Brooklyn, and agrees to train with him for a dance competition that could change their lives forever.
John Travolta was not a trained dancer although he spent six months learning in preparation for the film. “He had quite a quirky style which almost defined disco dancing,” observes Winsor who, though probably best known to the as a TV actor after three years as Dr Caleb Knight in Casualty has a dance background.
Nevertheless disco dancing was something new for Winsor. “I am a trained dancer who started with Matthew Bourne and was with him for 12 or 13 years. Every show had a different style from the classical of Swan Lake, through jiving in Car Man to contemporary choreography in Dorian Gray. So I am used to turning my hand to another style.”
The show’s faithfulness to the visual style of the original movie does have one drawback. “The tight trousers are really tight,” he laughs, “although they have a certain give to allow the energetic movement and strong enough to stand up to eight shows a week.”
Bill Kenwright’s production also by and large sticks to the film’s storyline. “We have tried to keep the core of the film which means I wouldn’t advise it for anyone under 14. There’s bad language and dark moments, we were aiming for the style of a Seventies noir film.
“But it’s a real crowd-pleaser with a couple of big numbers to end each half which get people up dancing in the aisles.”
Richard Winsor grew up in Retford and went to Ranby House and then Worksop College until going off to London at 16. “I know the whole area around Sheffield and went to Meadowhall a lot and supported Sheffield Wednesday, although since being in London I have also become a fan of Spurs.
He remembers coming to the Lyceum to see Northern Ballet as a kid which would suggest his love of dance from an early age. “I got into theatre and the arts when I was about 16, around the time of my GCSEs.
“I used to play rugby a lot and got to the standard of representing the Midlands. I went to the under 16 England trials but didn’t get in and at the time was doing dance, acting and rugby. I realised I had to make a choice and didn’t think I was going to be the best of the best at rugby,” he explains.
He went off to the Central School of Ballet and studied acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
“I have never been pigeon-holed. I have been able to do so many different things,” he concludes.
Saturday Night Fever is at the Lyceum from Tuesday, February 26, to Saturday.