The 70’s are alive in the mostly entertaining, slightly sluggish PG-rated stage version of the hit movie Saturday Night Fever.
The musical closely follows the story of the film, but with more subdued sequences. Remember, when originally released, the motion picture was R-rated. In the show, there is only a hint of racial tensions and a key sexual assault scene has been discreetly removed. Also, the disquietude of teenage life is gently glossed over. The book writers have, instead, smartly focused on the central character of Tony Manero, his key female relationships, and a great deal of dancing. When Saturday Night Fever laces up its party shoes the musical is alive and dynamic. Otherwise, it’s a more pedestrian urban melodrama.
The plot focuses on Tony, who finds solace from his dysfunctional family and dead-end job at the 2001 Odyssey disco, where he hangs out with his neighborhood friends. He is the king of the dance floor. The man with all the right moves. When a dance contest worth $1,000 is announced, he enters with his former dance partner, Annette, who yearns for his affection, but is constantly spurned. Soon after, Tony spies a gorgeous blonde, Stephanie, on the dance floor and sets his sights on her. At first, his advances are rebuffed, but that quickly changes as she soon becomes his new dance partner, leaving Annette on the outs. As their relationship develops and the big night approaches, Tony must contend with other events in his life. These include his unsupportive mother and father, a brother who suddenly leaves the priesthood, ethnic discord in his neighborhood, a close friend’s death, and his own self-doubts and self-worth. In the end, the dance competition arrives and ends with a surprising twist.
The book by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti is the primary problem with the musical. The over two dozen scenes require too much time to make the necessary set changes. The myriad transitions afford little opportunity to flesh out the supporting characters in the show. They become one-dimensional, lacking sufficient backstories and depth.
The score pulsates with the disco beat of the late 1970’s. Seven songs from the show, most written by the Bee Gees, climbed to the top of the Billboard singles chart when they were originally released from the movie soundtrack. They include such classics as "Jive Talkin,” "You Should Be Dancing," "How Deep Is Your Love," "Night Fever,” and "Stayin' Alive." They will leave even the most listless audience member tapping their feet.
There are three members of the cast worth noting. Foremost, is Michael Notardonato as Tony Manero. The actor is a natural for the Brooklyn teenager with all the right moves. He is an athletic dancer and smooth operator. He fully develops the character, infusing the role with passion and zeal. He has a sizzling chemistry with the character of Stephanie Mangano (Caroline Lellouche). Ms. Lellouche imbues her role with a sheen of glamour and confidence, but layers her portrayal with a hint of insecurity and bravado. Nora Fox’s Annette shows spunk and determination as she pursues acceptance among Tony and his inner circle of friends. The hurt and rejection she experiences feels genuine and heartfelt.
The strength of the musical is the lavish, all-out production numbers choreographed by Director/Choreographer Todd L. Underwood, especially those in the 2001 Odyssey nightclub. He does an outstanding job conceiving both large-scale and intimate dance routines in the style of the era. Anyone care to do the bump or shake your groove thing?
Mr. Underwood is less successful as Director due, mostly, to the unwieldly nature of how the musical is structured. With so many scenes it is difficult to create a vibrant and compelling flow to the production. It’s almost as if his main assignment is trying to smoothly and quickly segue from one scene to another, which is not always successful. The cumbersome nature of the show also gives him less time to work on developing viable secondary characters.
Scenic Designer Martin Scott Marchitto has managed to create simple set pieces, except for the bulky Verrazano-Narrows Bridge backdrop, that quickly and simply defines each scene. Lighting Designer Marcus Abbott is at his best with the dazzling disco light displays and Costume Designer Lisa Bebey hits the mark with spot on 1970’s fashions, from leisure wear to partying threads.
Saturday Night Fever, playing at the Ivoryton Placehouse through September 3rd. Ticket information is at http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or by calling 860-767-7318.