fri 24/05/2019

John Travolta, Theatre Royal Drury Lane | reviews, news & interviews

John Travolta, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

John Travolta, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Star of Saturday Night Fever and Grease ponders the art of stayin' alive

Sunday night fever: John Travolta line dancing with his audienceWENN

Hopelessly devoted women queuing up for hugs and to cut a rug with a playful John Travolta all dressed in black were just two of the highlights of an often pensive and surprisingly serious discussion, hosted by film critic Barry Norman, but one that still came littered with moments of real fun. “I want to make love to you all!”, Travolta exclaimed as he came out on stage to rapturous applause and screams of adoration.

Preceding Travolta’s lively "Stayin' Alive"-flanked entrance to the Drury Lane stage where the dimple-cheeked actor gamely struck his famous pose from Saturday Night Fever, the audience were shown a 20-minute reel of Travolta’s five-decade-long career. From his heartthrob in Grease to his hit-man in Pulp Fiction, his characters have made a deep impression on the filmic landscape and on his enthusiastic fans - one of whom he even knew by name, due to it being changed to Travolta in honour of her hero.

A husband’s request for Travolta to teach his wife to dance was met with a quick response

When Norman revealed it was soon to be Travolta’s birthday (he turned 60 on the 18th), the audience broke into a rendition of "Happy Birthday", but didn’t get far with Norman declaring, “Not yet!” Norman at the grand old age of 80 may have made his way onto the stage at a slower pace than Travolta but his “inquisition”, as he so rightly put it, proved he is not yet close to mellowing. Norman’s line of questioning was graceful and cheeky while unafraid to get under Travolta’s skin. Asking about his declining career in the 1980s he enquired, “Did you get too big for your boots?”, which provoked a knowing grin from Travolta and a titter from his fans.

Travolta explained how he turned down An Officer and a Gentleman and American Gigolo in quick succession, which led to Richard Gere’s fruitful career, and also quipped, “I turned down Splash and Tom Hanks happened.” Aware of what some may now see as bad decisions he said, “My ego was so big I wasn’t capable of getting down.” He also explained how film critic Pauline Kael advised him not to take any criticism too seriously, which still helps him not to take to heart the bad reviews he sometimes gets.

A fearless Norman also went on to tell Travolta how he wished he hadn’t made Staying Alive, the much-derided 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Travolta put that fail down to contractual obligations and remained in good spirits as Norman went on to explain how he may have not liked all his films but he liked all his performances. When Norman recalled how the film's director Sylvester Stallone tried to get him banned from film criticism after his review of Staying Alive, Travolta responded, “He loved me and wanted to protect me.”

Norman then moved on to the subject of Scientology, which elicited quite a guarded response, though he did explain that it gave him “the tools to survive” and that they saved his life by remaining in constant contact after his son Jett passed away in 2009. Travolta also revealed a number of future projects he’s excited about, including a Billy Crystal-directed comedy and upcoming films with both Salma Hayek and Ethan Hawke.

Indulgence on Travolta’s part included a long clip from his Spirit of Friendship tour with Qantas, which interrupted the flow of the conversation. What did work well was the decision to film questions from the audience before the show started, which were then displayed on a big screen, so time-wasters didn’t get a chance to spoil the pleasant ambience. Furthermore, a touch of egotism was easily forgivable given Travolta's attentive nature towards his devotees. A husband’s request for Travolta to teach his wife to dance was met with a quick response to bring her up on stage and though he declined to sing on request he was more than happy to bring a few more fans up to do the Batusi go-go dance from Pulp Fiction and teach them the "Greased Lightning" moves, though you suspect they already knew them.

Travolta’s earnest observations on his career (“Grease made a difference in people’s lives”) may have not been all that well matched with Norman’s refusal to pander to the audience's whims, choosing instead to dig deeper and touch upon the subjects that some may have thought were off limits. It was clear some fans weren’t enamoured with Norman’s line of questioning, instead reacting far better to the dancing part of the evening. However, the event ended in high (and wonderfully surreal) spirits with Travolta and Norman, actor and film critic, skipping off the stage arm-in-arm to the effervescent strains of "We Go Together".

Travolta explained that Scientology gave him the tools to survive

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