Saturday Night Fever
Book by Robert Stigwood, Bill Oaks, Sean Corcone and David Abbinanti
Music and lyrics by the Bee Gees and others
Directed by John Saunders
Choreographed by James Kinney
“It’s like God gave birth in my mouth.”
I have to make three confessions. One: I don’t like this show. Two: I don’t like the Bee Gees’ music. Three: While I truly admire all of the artists involved in this show and so appreciate the energy and work that has gone into it, I don’t think the show works.
This is like watching “West Side Story” light, only there is no Leonard Bernstein, there is no Stephen Sondheim, there is no Jerome Robbins and no classical source material for the adaptors to adapt. There is the film by Paramount and the story by Nik Cohn. There is the memory of John Travolta actually riveting our attention. There is the incredible story of passion, and obsession with dance. These were captivating and, even with the superb dancing in this Mac-Haydn production, nothing touches the memory of Travolta in his heyday–not even Daniel Velasquez in his dance-belt underwear.
The highest quality of this production is the superb choreography by James Kinney. The disco era comes back with a crash-and burn-attitude. Every movement Velasquez makes touches on that dance form. Every musical number sears through the heat of 1970s dance, a craze that swept away everything else for a short while. Donna Summer soared to prominence and so did ABBA. Songs by the Bee Gees said everything and did nothing. It was a time when every dominant minority had a moment – the Puerto Ricans, the Polish, the Italians each stole thunder as happens in this show. Here the show is Italian. Velasquez makes that ethnicity his special goal and he succeeds beautifully. In dance numbers, seemingly without number, he moves, shakes, rolls his hips and his eyes, purses his lips and motivates his arms to soar and exclaim with freedom the fabulous footwork Kinney imposes. For the most part, he is the show.
As the girl he obsesses on and dances with, Stephanie Mangano, actress Kate Zulauf nearly matches him step for step. She is the Ginger Rogers to his disco Fred Astaire. I cannot really tell if either of them can actually act, but she is often hostile and rude; he is often overbearing and rude. For them, as for most of the cast, there is a crudeness that pervades the piece.
Even Tony’s father and mother, the counterpoint people, are crude and rude. Apparently Tony comes by it naturally. Pat Wemitt is fine as the father and Erin Spears Ledford makes Mrs. Manero hateful. Only Tony’s brother, a renegade priest played by Quinn Corcoran, provides a different personality.
There is a pregnant teen played by Laura Michele Earl with a tenderness missing in the rest of the company and her boyfriend played by Dan Macke who almost expresses remorse. They are fine in the play. There is a whole host of minor characters who I found rather indistinguishable from one another.
The lighting by Andrew Gmoser is mood lighting and dance floor lighting. The costumes by Angela Cartenstein make those hideous patterns of the disco era relatively attractive. Kevin Gleason’s scenic design is occasionally so inventive that the show becomes about the set and otherwise works well for the play. Director John Saunders has kept the show moving and functioning but never arousing or really very interesting, but the script doesn’t aid in this at all. I found no one character in the play likeable enough to sympathize or empathize with from beginning to end.
The dancing gets the applause here. That is what the show is about. Unlike the ABBA musical “Mamma Mia” where their disco songs become pertinent to plot, in this show, the Bee Gees’ songs do little to illuminate either the people or the plot; they are just songs. Saunders seems to do whatever he can to sustain the show’s purpose, which is the dance.
I thought the music was well performed but not well integrated into the story. I thought the story banal and uninteresting. I hoped for more relevance to the key moments and relevant feelings. For today, this is a show that dances and dances and dances and does that very, very well. For tomorrow, it is a forgettable evening.
Saturday Night Fever plays at the Mac-Haydn Theater, 1925 Route 203, Chatham, New York, through Sunday, July 23. For tickets and information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at (518) 392-9292 or go online to www.machaydntheatre.org.