Revamped SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER Keeps the Good and Cleans up the Bad

Revamped SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER Keeps the Good and Cleans up the Bad

Pictured: (l-r) Adrian Aguilar and Erica Stephan. Photo by Brett Beiner.

Review: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER at Drury Lane Theatre

By Elizabeth Ellis

In the opening montage of the classic 1977 film SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, an overhead camera soars from Manhattan to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where we see John Travolta as Tony Manero, strutting the streets, swinging his paint can. As the musical at Drury Lane Theatre begins, we’ve landed in 1977 in the 2001 Odyssey Club, complete with giant disco ball. The excellent work from the trio of set designer Kevin Depinet, lighting designer Ryan O’Gara and sound designer Ray Nardelli immediately captures that feel of a giant old converted dance space. Everyone knows a place like this, whether from personal or cultural experience: the rotating colored lights, the pounding bass, the banged-up tables, the red fake leather banquettes with duct tape covering the rips in the seats. You can almost smell the smoke, the sweat, the cheap cologne.

A consistent theme between the film and the stage musical is the need for Tony and his friends to escape the mind-numbing drudgery in their Sunday-Friday lives. Stuck in dead-end jobs, with little opportunity or initiative to advance outside their insular neighborhood, they lack for personal expression anywhere but the dance floor. The Odyssey on Saturday nights offers them the one opportunity to feel alive, to escape, to show their passions.

What the musical has scrubbed are some of the grittier elements of the film. The drug usage, the ethnic tensions between Tony’s guys and the rival Latin gang the Barracudas, the rape of Tony’s would-be girlfriend Annette by his friends, the suicidal desperation of Tony’s friend Bobby aren’t explored as fully on stage, but this interpretation makes a better fit for the stage.

The iconic music from the film’s soundtrack forms the foundation for the for the structure of the show, with three excellent new songs more in the spirit of American musical theater. Adrian Aguilar’s Tony doesn’t possess the sneering sexuality of Travolta, but Aguilar absolutely has the looks, the charm, the slinky dance moves, and the stellar voice to pull off the character.

Stephanie Mangano, Tony’s dance partner, and potential love interest, is played to perfection by Erica Stephan, whose fabulous voice and dancing match Aguilar’s beautifully. Landree Fleming creates a heartbreaking Annette so hungry for Tony’s love and attention, yet showing strength and resiliency as she realizes that they as a couple will never happen. Your tour guide through the Odyssey, the powerful soul singer Candy (Alex Newell), shakes the roof with his amazing voice. Director-choreographer Dan Knechtges assembled a fabulous troupe of dancers who bring life to his sweeping disco choreography make the Drury Lane stage feel like a cavernous dance hall. Rachel Laritz’s era-perfect costumes prompted one audience member behind me to comment, “That dress looks exactly like the one I wore to prom in 1977! Ah, memories…” Warning: While this show is not exactly a sing-along, the classic disco music from the Bee Gees, Kool and the Gang, and others, is likely to make the audience break into song more than once.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.