Kudos to North Shore Music Theatre-in-the-round owner Bill Hanney, cast and production staff for presenting the New England regional theater premiere of disco musical, “Saturday Night Fever,” Aug. 11-23.
It was no small feat. Hanney & Co. were intent on following the highly successful 1977 film starring John Travolta, as closely as possible; not only the story line, but ensemble, provocative, lively disco numbers. Sure, the production had flaws, and could have been better. Given that Director Richard Stafford and the 23-member cast, (many hadn’t performed previously in-the-round and were born post-disco), had two weeks to rehearse, they pleased theatergoers, with the show’s nostalgia, energy, and careful attention to the film’s detail.
Theatergoers not only watched the action; they were in the midst of it.
With Music Director Milton Granger and his terrific musicians recreating the disco spirit of the BeeGees’ unforgettable tunes - “Saturday Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive,” ”How Deep is Your Love,” and others - Nick Kenkel’s choreography easily accomplished the task. The dancers were aptly aided by set designer Michael P. Kramer’s ingenious use of the theater’s aisles, platforms near the audience, and an impressively constructed wood-and-steel, floor-to-ceiling simulated structure,representing Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. New characters, club singer Candy (Haley Swindal) and 1970’s DJ-announcer, Monty, (Pat McRoberts) added to the genre.
Mood-setting, trendy dances fused one scene to another, and Kirk Bookman’s LED colorful lighting grids, mirror balls and mood-setting lights set the tone.
For the most part, the cast delivered, too; but Sam Wolf in the lead role of Tony Manero fell short, especially singing second-act solos, “Tragedy,” and “Top of Your Game”. At times, his voice went flat, and his emotions seemed shallow, excluding love scenes with female lead Tessa Grady, portraying Stephanie Mangano. During their duets, her lovely voice and exemplary acting elevated Wolf’s performance. Her voice soared in her solo, “What Kind of Fool”.
No question- it’s tough to live up to John Travolta’s film performance, especially his superb dancing. Wolf is buoyed by the ensemble, though, who provide vibrant back-up.
Tony considers himself the black sheep of the Manero family, because his older brother, Frank Jr., (NSMT favorite, Bronson Norris Murphy) is the perfect son. He’s studying for the priesthood, fulfilling his mother Flo’s (Ellen Peterson) dream.
Tony is making strides at the hardware store and is the star of the local Brooklyn Bay Ridge dance club, where adoring girls swoon, hoping to dance with or be photographed with him.
Frank Sr., Tony’s dad, (New York native Ray DeMattis) who worked in construction for 25 years and was suddenly laid off, is unimpressed with Tony’s job at the paint store and well-deserved pay raise. And he’s less impressed with his dancing fame.
Tony hangs out with a group of neighborhood losers, who frequent the dance club and play dangerous games on the bridge. Matthew Rodin is outstanding as stammering, self-conscious buddy, Bobby, who idolizes Tony. Bobby has a few problems, especially with his girlfriend, Pauline (Audrey Tesserot). He wants to become “his own man,” he says.
Also hanging on to Tony is his infatuated dance partner, Annete (Kirstin Tucker), who wants to be more to Tony, on and off the dance floor. Tucker belts out a soulful “If I Can’t Have You”.
In new song, “Stuck,” Bobby, Tony, Stephanie and Pauline’s four-way harmony is a show stopper. There’s hope, dreams, ambition, love, romance, tragedy, and - did I say dancing - in “Saturday Night Fever,” which ended with a hand-clapping, hip-gyrating finale.