Wednesday night crowd catches a Saturday Night Fever

By Kyle Poluyko

The musical adaptation of Saturday Night Fever was not a critical hit when it landed on Broadway in 1999, but audiences helped it enjoy a respectable year-long run. Based on Nik Cohn’s 1975 New York Magazine article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” and the hit 1977 film that catapulted John Travolta into movie stardom before “Grease” was the word, the undeniable nostalgia for the 70s disco era and a score laden with iconic Bee Gees songs and other classics has kept the show alive and well in regional and touring productions for nearly two decades. A new US National and Canadian tour of the classic story had the Community Auditorium’s Wednesday night audience up on it’s boogie shoes for a one-night-only engagement.

Image_Saturday Night FeverThough some of the film’s darker themes of drugs, violence and racial conflict were sanitized for the show to appeal to a wider audience, they did not detract from story. Saturday Night Fever is Tony Manero’s (Matthew Baker) story, a 19-year old New Yorker who works a dead-end job and lives with his parents (Walter A. Milani and Yvonne Strumecki) in the tough Bay Bridge area of Brooklyn. The antics of deadbeat friends Bobby C (Lance Bordelon), Joey (Michael J. Clark), Double J (Maclain Dassatti) and Gus (Benjamin Paul Rowan) don’t much elevate Tony and he’s desperate for an escape. The escape he finds is on Saturday nights, dancing at the local 2001 Odyssey disco where Tony bathes in attention as the king of the dance floor.

Tony is pursued by Annette (Anna Baker), his sometimes dance partner whom he engages as a convenience until he meets Stephanie (Danielle Marie Gonzalez) at the dance studio where he practices. Stephanie, also from the neighbourhood, is stunning and her Manhattan lifestyle gives her an appeal and sophistication Tony desires. She initially rubukes Tony but ultimately agrees to be his partner for the Odyssey’s upcoming dance competition, creating conflict with Annette. Subplots include Tony’s older brother, Frank Jr. (Mike McLean), who has recently abandoned the priesthood, and Bobby’s emotional struggle over his unexpectedly pregnant ex-girlfriend, Pauline (Jenna Leigh Zito).

The 30-member company delivered performances full of authentic, dramatic and sometimes humourous New York characterizations that didn’t stray into over-exaggeration or cliches, and with full calibre voices. Many wouldn’t have guessed that behind Baker’s solid singing and accurate Brooklyn dialect was a strong and true British accent (the actor hails from the UK). The belting vocals of both Anna Baker and Gonzalez were beautifully rich, with equally admirable performances from Bordelon and Zito. As Odyssey’s resident chanteuse Candy, Gabriella Whiting also delivered stunning and seductive vocals. The lively and legitimate ensemble, dressed in vibrantly authentic period costumes, filled the production numbers with resonating harmonies and demanding, richly expressive and executed choreography. Interestingly, ensemble cast member Gabriel Andrew Reyes was only able to perform the first half of the show due to injury and understudy Banji Aborisade stepped in seamlessly for the second act.

Like many touring productions this one has been scaled down from it’s Broadway predecessor. A Manhattan backdrop hung upstage, fixed legs extended from the wings, framing the stage with painted facsimiles of New York-establishing signage, and smaller set pieces were guided on stage by members of the cast. A large and faithful replica of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge – one of the film’s crucial plot devices – tracked onstage twice, and the sparkling of Odyessy’s disco ball glittered brightly, gently extended the onstage action into the Auditorium. The boldly colourful lighting design further enhanced the atmosphere of the production’s many scenes and musical and dance numbers. From the orchestra pit, a fantastic 5-piece band gave precise life to the show’s well-regarded score.

This production of Saturday Night Fever didn’t break any new ground nor did it astound with theatrical spectacle. A few sound issues plagued some dialogue-centric scenes. But it succeeded – where Flashdance failed earlier this season – in presenting a fun and enjoyable interpretation of a celluloid classic while offering refreshing and inventive arrangements of quintessential songs including “Tragedy” “How Deep is Your Love,” “If I Can’t Have You,” and “Nights on Broadway.” An extended curtain call with an energetic “You Should Be Dancing” re-mix spurred an audience dance party. Most definitely, Saturday Night Fever is stayin’ alive!

New Fever On Tour’s production of Saturday Night Fever: The Musical performed a one-night-only engagement on Wednesday, April 20 at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.