Travolta's classic is staying alive

Saturday night fever

The Playhouse

NOT that long ago in a candid moment, John Travolta admitted: "When I get dolled up for interviews I get Hair and Make-up to do it. Otherwise, I pay no attention to my appearance. I think it’s nice to look presentable in public, but I’m a little lazy when it comes to those things the rest of the time."

He also revealed that to hide the fact that he is balding he has "someone colour in the balding spots".

It was all very different back in the 70s when no-one walked the walk or swivelled their hips quite like Travolta. And though it might be hard to believe, 26 years have now passed since he first donned that skin-tight white polyester flared suit, placed one hand on his hip, pointed with the other to the heavens and instantly created an iconic image of the silver screen.

Of course, he was working with some great material - as feel-good musicals go, Saturday Night Fever never fails to hit the spot.

It’s a simple story. Tony is an uneducated Brooklyn teenager whose highlight of his week is going to the local disco where he is the king of the dance-floor. There he meets Stephanie and they agree to dance together in a competition.

As Stephanie resists Tony’s attempts to romance her - she aspires to greater things - Tony becomes disillusioned with his life until eventually the pair decide to help each other start afresh.

In the lead role Travolta became a heart-throb overnight. These days, the 49-year-old may have piled on the pounds and turned to cosmetics to fade the wrinkles (he recently joked: "I once gave Gene Hackman a shock when we were shooting Get Shorty. He saw me without make-up and he had the same reaction a kid has to a horror picture.") but his Night Fever legacy lives on.

It makes him a hard act to follow - just ask Stephane Anelli, the latest in a long line of young actors to strut his stuff as the Italian stallion.

"I get asked what it’s like following in John Travolta’s footsteps, but I can’t really take it like that. In my view I don’t really think I’m following in his footsteps and would never say that I could. I’d never have the audacity to say that I could fill his shoes.

"But I am honoured to be playing a part that he played although, obviously, I put a lot of myself into the character so that it doesn’t become a cheap impersonation of John Travolta," says the 23-year-old, pointing out that he is the same age that Travolta was when he played the part.

That also means he wasn’t born when Saturday Night Fever first took the world by storm - an advantage in Anelli’s view. "Because I wasn’t born when it came out I didn’t grow up with it. But when I discovered it about five years ago I fell in love with the character and thought it was fantastic.

"Travolta made an iconic role and timeless piece out of what he did with that part. It’s every man’s dream to be able strut around the disco and get all that female attention. No healthy man would ever push that aside."

Playing the nimble-footed Manero comes as second nature to Anelli. The son of a professional ice-skater and a musical director, his first brush with performing came at the age of five when he signed up for dancing lessons.

He recalls: "I did it as a hobby because I was a bit of a mad kid and it just went from there. I can’t really ever remember it going from a hobby to something serious."

Nevertheless it led to him being cast as Double J in the German and UK tours of Saturday Night Fever, although more recently his skills have been in demand by the likes of S Club 7, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Emma Bunton, The Lighthouse Family, Atomic Kitten and Nancy Sinatra.

He laughs: "I did a 40 Years of No 1s Christmas Special with Dale Winton and Nancy Sinatra came over to do her No 1, These Boots Were Made For Walking. There were four of us lads who backed her up, she was a lovely lady."

Right now, though, Anelli can’t wait to get back to The Playhouse stage. But, of course, no mention of Saturday Night Fever would be complete without a mention of the Bee Gees’ legendary soundtrack which, among others, boasts You Should Be Dancing, Jive Talkin’, Tragedy, Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love? and, of course, the show-stopping Night Fever.

"I love it," says Anelli. "And I’m really excited to be going back to Edinburgh, especially as the last time I was up there (Hogmany 2000) I was playing Double J . . . I’ve been promoted since then, I’m moving up the ladder."

As the tagline of the original 1977 movie asked: "Where do you go when the record is over?"

Next week, it seems The Playhouse is the answer.

• Saturday Night Fever, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, Monday October 27-Saturday November 8, 7.30pm (Wednesday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm), 12-30, 0870-6063424

See Saturday Night Fever for free

EH Entertainment has teamed up with The Playhouse to give ten lucky readers the chance to win tickets to see Saturday Night Fever on Monday November 3.

To win a pair of tickets simply answer the following question:

Who plays Tony Manero at The Playhouse?

Answers on a postcard please to: Saturday Night Fever Competition, EH Entertainment, Edinburgh Evening News, 108, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8AS. Closing date is Tuesday October 28.

Winners will be selected at random after the deadline. There is no cash or prize alternative. Usual Evening News rules apply. The editor’s decision is final.

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