Saturday Night Fever The Musical CREDIT SANMARI MARAIS-224

Behind-the-scenes of “Saturday Night Fever”

Saturday Night Fever The Musical, presented by The South African State Theatre and Bernard Jay, is currently running at the Opera Theatre in all its bell-bottomed glory until 9 October. We caught up with a varied group of the talented cast to get a behind-the-scenes scoop on how different performers prepare, what challenges there are and what, if any, performance rituals they have. Saturday Night Fever booking info via Computicket here.

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Tony (Daniel Buys) and Stephanie (Natasha Van Der Merwe) have it out. Image by Sanmari Marais.
  1. Tell us about your character in Saturday Night Fever, your performance role in the show and the amount of singing, acting and/or dancing you do. What has been the most challenging and rewarding aspects for you?

DANIEL BUYS “I play Tony Manero who is the leading man. I sing, dance and act. The most challenging part of the process was mastering the choreography and the long hours. The most rewarding part was the same thing.”

NATASHA VAN DER MERWE “I play the role of Stephanie Mangano in Saturday Night Fever. The female Lead, who sings, dances and acts in the show. I think with every show one does, there will always be challenges, but most certainly not anything that doesn’t push you to be better. This has been an incredible experience, but one where the role of Stephanie requires you to be able to sing, dance and act. You have to make sure you keep all the pots boiling at the same time. That being said, there is nothing more rewarding (than) when you are putting a show together, and you have that first audience. It’s the first time as a cast that we feel the show with an audience and their reactions. It’s something so special and rewarding when you see them enjoying it.”

MATTHEW BERRY “I play Bobby C in SNF. Bobby is one of the supporting leads in the show and has a good amount of singing, acting and dancing. I think adjusting to the style of a piece is always the most difficult and rewarding part of doing any show. Not only is it challenging you as an actor to deliver a truthful and captivating performance, but you are continuously learning what you can and can’t do. Yet.”  

SEBE LEOTLELA “I play a character called Candy who is the Disco Diva – the singer at the Disco. I wouldn’t say she’s a lead or ensemble, but rather a supporting role. She contributes to the show with her singing pipes, (and) together with Monty they become the life of the Disco. (The most challenging was) Singing the song Disco Inferno… That song used to terrify me. Even from the time I had to audition for the role, I just thought I could never reach the notes in the song because they are just so ridiculously high for me.  And somehow I’ve managed to figure it out, and now I get to perform it every night. And for me that’s been quite rewarding.”

CRAIG URBANI “I play Frank Manero. Tony’s father. He is a very unhappy, unevolved, powerful man serving to highlight the older generation in the piece who are stuck and trapped by their circumstances as a result of making bad choices and not following their dreams. He feels unappreciated at work and at home and huffs and puffs around the house thinking he is the “boss’ when really it’s the mother that runs the show. It is a supporting lead role which requires more acting than singing. I also play a cameo role of a very camp and outrageous dance instructor. He is over the top and, needless to say, a lot of fun!! I found creating an authentic character in the heightened genre of musical theatre challenging. The accent was an enjoyable journey to go on. The Brooklyn accent is a wonderfully expressive and hard hitting accent which often leans toward caricature or exaggerated performances. We tried to fight against that.”

CHARMAINE WEIR-SMITH “I play 2 characters. My primary character is Flo Manero, Tony’s mother. It is a strong character role. I also play Doreen, a girl in the club who is hopelessly in love with Tony. The most challenging has been learning the choreography as I am not a dancer. It’s also been a great deal of fun exploring that side of performing. The most rewarding has been creating this show with our lovely cast and creative team.”  

DEVON FLEMMER “I’m the male swing in the show which means I need to be able to step into multiple roles on a moment’s notice.  As the swing in Saturday Night Fever, I cover four male ensemble tracks and understudy two supporting roles – Frank Jr and Jay Langheart. This entails me knowing all six tracks inside and out so I can step into any of the roles if I were called on to do so. I need to know all three disciplines in Musical Theatre – singing, dancing and acting. As male swing, the most challenging thing has been having to know the parts for so many characters, and to make sure I can do all their choreography and scene work. The most rewarding part has been having the opportunity to perform the role of Cesar Rodriguez – I’m a Latin dancer like Cesar, so playing him was exhilarating.

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“Bobby C” (Matthew Berry) and the boys of Saturday Night Fever. Image by Sanmari Marais. 

2. How do you prepare for the show, what time is call-time for you and do you prefer warming up alone or within the group?

 DANIEL BUYS “I start getting ready for the show at home before I come in. I really do “work on my hair a long time”.  Call time is 18:30 and because the show is in Pretoria we need quite a while to get there and be ready. I like doing the warm up with the whole cast.  You feel and feed off the group energy. It’s also a chance to greet everyone for the day.”  

NATASHA VAN DER MERWE “Call time for the show is 1 ½ hours before the show. I generally like to get there 2 hours before and start with hair and make-up. Due to the fact that Stephanie doesn’t have any wigs, hair is something to account for in the process of getting ready. We do a physical and vocal warm up of 15 minutes each, which gets the company ready and focused. We then have 1 hour before the curtain goes up. I am generally quite diligent with my time. It’s not ideal when you are feeling rushed. I aim to be mic’d up and ready to go between the 15-minute and 5-minute call. Then you have time to double check your pre-sets and make sure you have everything ready, as well as get focused and ready for your show. I will always do a company vocal and physical warm up, but I also continue warming up vocally on my own as well as physically because it is a fairly demanding track for me, both vocally and physically. 15 minutes isn’t always enough to cover everything.”

MATTHEW BERRY “I am very relaxed with my time; I know more or less how quickly I can be ready to walk out onto stage. Every day is different. Sometimes you have an ice-cream before work, sometimes you don’t. Theses kinda things may slow a person down, you know? (*we know!*) Group warm-up is more than just warming up the voice and body, it’s also about group focus. I often have to spend more time warming up my back so I won’t always do the same exercises as the rest, but being together is very important. We are a team.”

SEBE LEOTLELA “Call time is an hour and a half before the show. My character doesn’t need much to prepare. I just need to do a basic physical and vocal warmup, put some make up on, get my mic, wig and costume on and we are ready to go! I’m normally relaxed though during that process… I’m usually ready just at the 5 min call. I love working out or warming up in a group. It can be a lot of fun. But some days even after our group warm up, I find that I still need to warm up some more, so I just set sometime apart to do that by myself! So I’m fine with either. I enjoy both!”  

CHARMAINE WEIR-SMITH “Call time for me is an hour before the show. Make up, wigs and costume all take time. I have always preferred warming up alone. I have a vocal warm up that I do in the car. It’s a warm up I discovered when I was at The Loft Theatre Company in Durban and it works wonderfully for me. I will follow this with stretches in my dressing room.”  

CRAIG URBANI “I arrive at the hour call which allows me time to warm up physically and vocally with the company before the show. Different roles require more or less time to do this and each actor is unique. It is our job to recognize how much time we need to be ready. I enjoy warming up and spending time with the company before going on stage as it creates a group feeling of energy which then transfers into the performance and across to the audience. Again, this could depend on what kind of piece it is and what kind or character you’re playing.”

DEVON FLEMMER “Call time is 18h30 as the show starts at 20:00. As a cast we do a vocal and physical warm up, which helps me relax and focus. I like to use the rest of the time to go over choreography and swing tracks. I prefer both – it’s good for cast morale to warm up together.

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Disco diva Candy (Sebe Leotlela) lets it burn! Image by Sanmari Marais.

3. How to do you ‘get in the zone’ and do you have any performance rituals eg high-fiving, meditation. And finally, how do you decompress/debrief after the show?

DANIEL BUYS “I like to be ready with enough time to go over a few dance moves before going on. Also, I sing a bit more after warm up. After the show I like to have a glass of wine or a beer but mostly I just want to eat.  As much as I can…which is terrible. Facebook and social media is a reflex reaction really.”  

NATASHA VAN DER MERWE “HAHA, yes, there is most certainly high-fiving that happens. I also always go through notes, and make sure I have everything pre-set that I need to. Sort of a check list that needs to be done. I try and keep my routine the same every night. After a show it can be quite manic. One doesn’t always have time to destress/decompress if you have audience waiting for you. I will always go and say hi if I have people in, but that’s after packing up, doing one’s after show routine (getting mics off, getting out of costume, etc) and in this case, I carpool home, so we chat about all sorts of things in the car on the way home, a rather nice way to debrief.”

MATTHEW BERRY “I don’t have any rituals before a show. Every day is different and every show is different. I like the feeling that anything could happen, it’s exciting! Chocolate is nice after a show, but nothing beats an ice-cold beer!”  

SEBE LEOTLELA  “I love music. I normally listen to Beyonce (lol) just to get myself hyped up before the show – channeling my inner Diva! I don’t do anything in particular to destress. The minute that curtain falls I’m just thinking about the long drive from Pretoria to Johannesburg. Which isn’t too bad when I have my radio on and I’m just cruising on the highway!  

CHARMAINE WEIR-SMITH “Every performer has rituals that are unique to them and make them feel secure. I always have my main meal at lunch when I’m performing in the evenings. Food is my fuel! I have a certain playlist of music that I create for each show which gets me in the mood. My warm up of course and I always say a prayer of thanks before I go on stage. (After the show) A quick post-mortem of the show with my fellow cast members, a cup of tea and a snack when I get home. Often I’m very wired from performing so it takes me time “to come down”. I read or watch TV and have a chat to my husband, Peter, about the show.”

CRAIG URBANI “I used to be quite superstitious and have a few rituals to follow before and during a show, but I have tried to leave all those now and just take each night and each scene as it comes. We can overthink and work against ourselves at times. Keep it simple! Squeeze, breathe and hope for the best!! My days of drinking are done and I gave up smoking some years back, so my down time is very different these days and involves a cup of tea and some chill time before the energy begins to subside and I can feel that a good sleep is on the cards. Boring hey!?”

DEVON FLEMMER “I spend five minutes backstage alone before beginners call, just centering myself and focusing on the task ahead.  I don’t have a specific routine, however I do take off my make-up and hang up my costumes. Once I’ve left the theatre, I leave the show behind.

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Cesar Rodriguez (Devon Flemmer) lets loose those Latin hips. Image by Sanmari Marais

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