Dazzling dancing boosts ‘Saturday Night Fever’
BEVERLY – It’s 1976, the year of the great New York City blackout and the Summer of Sam.
For Tony Manero (Sam Wolf), a 19-year-old resident of the Bay Point neighborhood of Brooklyn, the weekend provides an opportunity to escape the tedium of his job at the paint store, put on his “boogie shoes” and head out for a night of dancing.
Manero’s story was made into the smash-hit film “Saturday Night Fever,” starring John Travolta, and eventually adapted into “Saturday Night Fever, The Musical,” now on stage at the North Shore Music Theatre through Aug. 23.
Some of the elements have traveled well, including the music by the Bee Gees and other artists.
Alas, the book is just not that great. Robert Stigwood and Bill Oakes adapted the screenplay from the Paramount film for the stage, and Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti adapted for the North American stage. The production lags when the dancing stops and some of the characters – Tony’s family and his loser buddies – are right out of the Stock Italian-American Characters Playbook and have little or no depth.
But let’s face it: It was never about the story or even the ancillary characters, either. It was about the beautiful marriage of dancing and music set against an era – disco – that didn’t lack for spectacle.
Sam Wolf as Tony looks the part – yes, there were wolf whistles from you ladies – at least I think it was the ladies – at a recent performance when Wolf as Tony stripped down to his skivvies before re-assembling himself for a night at the 2001 disco.
Tony has issues. Tony’s dad (Frank DeMattis) is unemployed and feeling the heat and mother Flo (Ellen Peterson) wants to know why Tony isn’t a success like his brother Frank Jr., the priest (Bronson Norris Murphy).
Annette (Kirstin Tucker), Tony’s sometime dance partner, wants to be something more, and threatens to take her “talents” elsewhere if Tony isn’t more forthcoming.
Tony’s “buds” are mostly losers going nowhere and part of the reason he’s spinning his wheels, although there is fun to be had from Bobby C (Matthew Rodin) and Pauline (Audrey Tesserot), his sometime girlfriend who is a full-time pain in the neck.
The show picks up some steam with the arrival of Tessa Grady as Stephanie Mangano, whom Tony spies at his dance studio. She works over the bridge in Manhattan and sees herself as more sophisticated than Tony – no kidding – and, despite some reservations, becomes Tony’s dance partner.
The soundtrack of the movie score featuring the BeeGees songs along with other artists’ contributions remains the greatest-selling movie soundtrack seller in history, but it also serves as a distraction at times. With the voices and the harmonies of the Brothers Gibb so ingrained in our minds, we may feel something amiss when we hear members of the cast singing them, even if they’re beautifully sung – Grady, Tucker and Haley Swindal as Candy in particular have fine voices.
No matter who sings the numbers such as “Stayin’ Alive,” “Nights on Broadway” and “How Deep is your Love” stand the test of time,.
Nick Kenkel’s choreography simply kicks ass, and is head and shoulders above those faux dancing shows you see on TV.
There are too many dance highlights in the production numbers to list, but for me the finest moments are the competition at the disco as four couples compete for the title, the trophy and $500 (real money in those times). All four routines are excellent, with special mention to Andrés Acosta (Caesar) and Michelle Marmolejo (Maria).
Those involved in the top-notch production values here, take a bow. Set designer Michael P. Kramer, lighting designer Kirk Bookman, costume designer Paula Peasley-Ninestein and sound designer Leon Rothenberg set the table for the vivid recreation of the disco era and Milton Granger’s orchestra delivers the throbbing beat flawlessly. The production values tend to gloss over the weakness of the book.
Several theater-goers at a recent performance got into the spirit and dressed for the occasion.
Director Richard Stafford has done some excellent work at NSMT through the years, and he milks every possible moment of angst from the book while making sure all the other aspects of the piece are as solid as they can be.
“Saturday Night Fever” isn’t a great musical, but it is entertaining for long stretches. The result is a show that’s a bit shallow, but pleasing to the eyes and ears.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “Saturday Night Fever, The Musical.” Based on the Paramount film, adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oakes; adapted for the North American stage by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti. Featuring songs by the Bee Gees and other artists. Directed by Richard Stafford. Choreographed by Nick Kenkel. Set designer Michael P. Kramer, lighting designer Kirk Bookman, costume designer Paula Peasley-Ninestein, sound design by Leon Rothenberg. At the North Shore Music Theatre through Aug. 23. www.nsmt.org.