BWW Review: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER at Walnut Street Theatre
In the late 70's The Bee Gees won 5 Grammys, including Album of the Year with the soundtrack SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. The brothers three, along with Donna Summer, ushered in the disco era, and 'Stayin' Alive' became its anthem. (That same tune is one that paramedics employ in CPR training. That thumping rhythm is exactly that of pumping a victim's chest). The movie was the catalyst for John Travolta's career. One assumes Tony Manero's white suit is in The Smithsonian along with Dorothy's red slippers.
Director/Choreographer Richard Stafford dazzles in his creativity. His live production defines a generation. The dancing is quite complex and by no means of the generic chorus line similitude. Small groups dance very different movements during each production number. Additionally, during dialogue downstage, there are stylized leitmotifs of dance upstage associated with the lead characters and the action of the plot.
This show is a technical marvel as well. Scenic Designer Peter Barbieri channels the excitement, the colors and the interior of the nightclubs as if he had grown up in Brooklyn. Lighting Designer Jack Mahler used every hue and glow of the pallet to enhance. Inside Club 2001 Odyssey at the end of Act I, dance, song, costuming and light congregate in a spectacle of 'Night Fever' and "You Should Be Dancing' that had the opening night audience on their feet and buzzing at intermission.
Tony (Jacob Tischler) is a tour de force, immediately setting the tone of his character and the show with the opener 'Stayin' Alive' that we all came to see and hear. He is rarely offstage and exudes the same leadership and charm that swooned feminine hearts in the iconic film. He can throw a good laugh line as well. When his father touches his head, Tony barks, "Whoa. I work a long time on my hair"!
Love interest Stephanie Langano (Alexandra Matteo), is a fluid dancer and intoned high altitude chops in her solo 'What Kind Of Fool'. Her Brooklynese accent was delightful and endearing (if the nasality native to that 5th NY borough could ever be called endearing. (Fran Drescher was in the movie. I rest my case).
Tony's unrequited love Annette (Nicole Colon) took full advantage of her day in the sun with 'If I Can't Have You'. Tony may have tossed her aside in preparation for the dance contest, "it's all business, Annette", but her rendition of this song reminded this scribe of the show-stopping 'And I Tell You I'm Not Going' from DREAMGIRLS. She was vocal nitroglycerine!
One can fully imagine Candy (Crystal Joy) previously played Martha Reeves on Broadway's MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. She soared to stratospheric heights in 'Nights on Broadway'. Her costumes by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case was jaw dropping, entertaining and period specific, as was all costuming.
I have been a big fan of Ben Dibble for years. As Monty the DJ, he showcased his rock edge.
The show ran for 500 productions on Broadway. Very credible. We go to see SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for the music, the dancing and the outfits...that to this day we cannot believe we wore.
This is a long show, nearing 3 hours including intermission. The movie was 2. Even zealots like me start peering at their watch as we traipse past 2 hours.
There was too much WEST SIDE STORY here; too many sub plots, too much angst and more than one song that could have been cut to move along what we really wanted to see. We need only one scene to understand Tony's future was bleak: he lived with his family in an apartment, his Dad was laid off and he worked in a retail paint store. We get it.
Did Tony's brother Frank leaving the priesthood move the plot along? He became a priest to please his parents. Is this new news? More important, in this context, who cares? There's 15 minutes saved. 'After The Fall' could have been shaved to no one's lament. That's another 4 minutes. The Arab 'contest' sequence - while beautifully danced- had me asking myself Twilight Zone-type questions. This is Brooklyn, not Mesopotamia.
Finally, this revised version has Tony and Stephanie losing the contest. Tony does the right thing morally and gives the trophy to the two that were better. Ho hum. (btw, the two that won were breathtaking).
Now we have a big problem. We are about to close the show. Now the audience is in trouble, a sad and desolate place where the Director Stafford never wants the audience to be. He must then create an immediate encore that uplifts and exhilarates. He did that in spades. However, time would have been saved by having Tony and Stephanie win and use that dynamic 'whiteout' production number to close curtain.
Through July 16 WalnutStreetTheatre.org 215.574.3550
They open their 209th season Sept 5 with one of the Top Five funniest musicals EVER....FORUM. I cannot think of one funnier, but saying Top 5 leaves me breathing room.