Disco and dance collide in the electric retelling of the 1977 Nic Cohn film, Saturday Night Fever, currently running at Moonlight Amphitheatre through September 30.
Adapted for the North American stage by Robert Stigwood, Bill Oaks, Sean Cercone, and David Abbinanti, Saturday Night Fever: The Musical features music by The Bee Gees and arrangements, orchestrations, and additional music and lyrics by David Abbinnati. This iteration is directed and choreographed by John Vaughan and music directed by Elan McMahan. The play tells the story of 19 year old Brooklyn paint store clerk Tony Manero, a young man with a passion for disco. Hoping for more in his life than he sees around him, Tony enters a dance competition with fellow performer Stephanie Mangano. Through the process of preparing for the competition, Tony and Stephanie learn about each other, the world that they live in, and the ways in which society compartmentalizes their friends and family… and, under the sparkles of the disco ball, they find something unexpected.
Centering around the story of Tony and Stephanie’s continually developing relationship, Saturday Night Fever depends on the chops of its leads. Brandon Keith Rogers and Allison Spratt Pearce both have the dance prowess to pull off the iconic roles many remember from the silver screen. Rogers, a true triple threat, does a beautiful job at capturing the conflict within his role: the need to be accepted and celebrated for who he is, the way he feels enclosed and trapped within the options available to him, and his moral indignation over the way that society fails the underprivileged. Spratt Pearce brings a lovely lyrical approach to her dance numbers and, though her character isn’t given a lot of depth in the script, finds ways in her characterization to create a more three-dimensional human in Stephanie.
Another standout in the production cast is Jenna Lea Rosen, who plays Annette. Rosen, most recently seen at Moonlight as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, delivers a raw-edged and rich “If I Can’t Have You” that has the audience roaring. Likewise, Vonetta Mixson’s Candy delivers the breadth of disco hits with style, energy, and accuracy… “Stayin Alive” and “Disco Inferno” resonated as ear worms long after I left the theatre, and the large group dance numbers were well executed by the large ensemble and performer duos and vibrant thanks to the synth-heavy live band.
Moonlight’s version of this production features a large company, which includes Jake Bradford (Bobby), E.Y. Washington (Monty), Xavier Bush (Gus), Ryan Perry Marks (Double J), Douglas Henderson (Frank Manero), Lisa Dyson (Flo Manero), Ian Black (Frank Manero Jr.), Taleen Shrikian (Linda Manero), Fisher Kaake (Joey), and Holly Santiago (Pauline), as well as ensemble members Danielle Airey, Cody Bianchi, Josh Bradford, Wes Dameron, Armondo Eleazar, Deborah Fauerbach, Siri Hafso, Colby Hamann, Shira Jackman, Karina Johnson, Zöe Marín-Larson, Joy Newbegin, Trevor Rex, Samantha Roper, Taleen Shrikian, Helen Tait, Anthony Michael Vacio, Susanna Vaughan, and Andrea William.
In terms of the landscape of the production, the scenery, props, and costumes, acquired for this production as rentals, were effective at creating the spaces in which the story could be told and were era appropriate. The mirrored rolling set pieces, scaffolding, and bridge in particular were well utilized in the Vaughn’s blocking. Lighting designer Jennifer Edwards took advantage of the amphitheatre’s large facade, incorporating multi-colored lighting to create the landscape of the disco club. Sound design by Jim Zadai allowed all characters to be heard, though it was oftentimes difficult to tell who was speaking based on their location on the stage and there was a significant crackling sound coming from speakers at stage left.
Many audience members, I imagine, have fond memories that include the timeless tunes in the Saturday Night Fever catalog. Heading to the theatre for a nostalgic take on the feature film may just be one way that people can create one more memory.
Saturday Night Fever: The Musical runs at Moonlight Amphitheatre through the end of September.