By Karen Isaacs
Disco is alive and well on the stage of Ivoryton Playhouse with its energetic production of Saturday Night Fever through Sunday, Sept. 3.
If you loved the movie, you will enjoy elements of the musical; but be aware that it is much more up-beat than the film and the music has changed significantly.
The 1977 film detailed a sub-culture in Brooklyn of late teens who are caught in dead-end jobs, few prospects and stifling Italian-American and Catholic traditions. They find their release in horsing around, drinking, sex and dancing. Tony, the lead, works in a hardware store as a clerk, lives at home with parents who not only bicker but make him feel as the lesser of their two sons (the other is a priest), and has few opportunities for a better life. But on the weekend he goes to the local disco club where he is king of the dance hall.
While the movie is centered on a dance competition with a $1,000 prize, it also touches on the ethnic/racial unrest, abortion, rape and suicide.
When the movie was rewritten for the stage, it became much less dark. Many of these elements were either removed or softened. It was transformed into a romantic show, about teenage love with a tragic twist for one of the supporting characters.
Since its 1999 debut in London, the show’s score has undergone many revisions and reordering of songs. Most were not in the film.
Director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood has assembled a large cast of mostly younger performers who dance up a storm. He draws on all variations of disco dancing and the hustle. The result is a veritable treasure chest of late ‘70s and ‘80s music.
Most of the music is from the BeeGees library – either written by the Gibbs brothers or from their repertory. It may not go down as classics, but as someone said, it is nostalgic for those who lived through the period. Even if you were listening to variations of hardcore rock, you were aware of these tunes, though you may have made fun of them.
What makes this production so enjoyable is the cast. The three main characters, Tony, Stephanie and Annette are all excellent. Michael Notardonato as Tony has played the role before; he is totally comfortable in the part yet does not give us an imitation of John Travolta’s performance. His walk, talk and dancing convey Tony’s confidence but also hints at his dissatisfaction and ambitions.
Caroline Lellouche plays the blonde Stephanie who Tony is attracted to both for her dancing and her attitude. Lellouche is a terrific dancer and she projects Stephanie’s veneer of sophistication. Yet, I wish there was more hint that some of what she says is not the absolute truth. Stephanie is a girl desperately trying to get out and stay out.
As Annette, the neighborhood girl who so wants Tony to like her, Nora Fox, truly gets underneath this character and shows us all of her contradictions and her desperation.
In the secondary plot, Sarah Mae Banning gives us a sweet and gentle Pauline and Pierre Marals shows us all sides of the confused and trapped Bobby C.
Set designer Martin Scott Machitto has created a backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge with the bridge supports as a repeated theme. The two sides of Ivoryton’s stage are turned into Tony’s bedroom and the disco’s MC booth. Together with the lighting by Marcus Abbott, it really suggests the urban area.
It may have been where I was sitting, in the balcony, but at times I found it difficult to hear/understand the dialogue, particularly Tony. Was it that the sound was too soft? Was it that he was giving us a Brando-ish mumble? Or was the accent interfering with his ability to project. But it was annoying to not always catch the lines.
This may have been a problem with either the sound design or equipment. Yet for the most part of the lyrics were understandable and the sound did not blast your eardrums.
For the most part the costumes by Lisa Bebey were appropriately disco era, and of course, we had to have Tony’s iconic white suit.
Saturday Night Fever is not a great musical. In toning down some of the harsher elements of the film, it becomes less realistic. Yet for those who recall the film or remember the era, it is an enjoyable evening in the theater.
It runs through Sunday, Sept. 3. For tickets visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and Zip06.