THE DISCO BALL DROPS AT BROADWAY BY THE BAY’S REGIONAL PREMIERE OF ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
THE 70’S DANCE SIZZLE, BUT TONY MANERO HAS A DIFFICULT TIME MAKING HIS STORY A BROADWAY MUSICAL,
YET I LOVED HIS PAINT CAN
The Disco ball shines in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER now on stage at Broadway By The Bay’s summer musical only through August 26th. “Our first two productions of the season explored how music is a transformative; unifying language that can bring those from wildly different backgrounds and ideals together,” says Broadway by the Bay Executive Artistic Director Alicia Jeffrey. “What I love about Saturday Night Fever is that it shows how music and dance can awaken a spirit and drive in the most unlikely of persons. The character of Tony feels incredibly relevant today—a bit lost, somewhat unseen by others, and he’s not able to see himself beyond his family’s expectations— and yet when he gets on the dance floor, his confidence is found, and the vision of who he wants to be is clear. Through dance, he figures out who he is.”
Jeffrey brings the BBB superb production team to create the 70’s Disco era headed by director Joshua Marx. He says SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER may make us think of cheesy dance moves "People might also forget that that disco arose as an underground movement/ Disco clubs were a place where you could let loose and dance as close to your partner as you wanted.” Marx brings a talented cast of 23 to the Fox stage in Redwood City, with co-music directors Eryn Allen and Alicia Jeffrey.
Based on the Paramount/SRO film and the story by Nik Cohn, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oaks, with the North American version written by Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti. The show ran for 500 performances on Broadway just over a year to mixed reviews.
The story follows the plot of the film almost beat for beat. The thin storyline centers around Tony Manero (Bernardi), a Brooklyn 17 year old who is just another wannabe during the day, but the king of the local disco by night. When he hears that his disco club is holding a dance competition with a $1,000 prize, he jumps at the opportunity to win it, and hopefully use it to find some greater purpose.
The show opens with some classic disco as the icon song “Stayin Alive” introduces Tony Manero with all the spinning and shine provided by Aaron Spivey’s light design. The accomplished Nick Bernardi as Tony struts on stage with his famous paint can in hand, provided by king of props Eric Johnson. The electrifying company paints the 70’s on scenic designer Kelly James Tighe dark but multi level set that instantly transforms into dance studios and night clubs.
Choreographers Nicole Helfer and Zoe Swenson-Graham bring that strut and high end disco to all the dance numbers that keep this show worth watching. The dance is the high light “Boogie Shoes” keeps the long first act moving featuring Bernardi, David Blackburn as Bobby, Marco Simental as the boys Joey, the handsome Anthony Maglio as Double J, and the rousing Jesse Cortez as Gus. Bernardi's interpretation grows on you as the show progresses. He seems reticent, and perhaps not possessing enough street "edge", yet, once the disco score fills the Fox Theatre his self-possession and confidence takes over. Bernardi shows that he's a smooth mover with a voice to match the footwork in his featured songs “Top of The Game,” and with his crush, Stephanie, played by Anya Absten in “100 Reasons”.
Tony’s chosen dance partner and eventual love interest, Stephanie Mangano, played by the elegant Anya Absten, is a match for him on the dance floor. Absten's character is probably the most multi-dimensional, and the most interesting. She also turns in some powerful vocals in "What Kind of Fool", and "How Deep is Your Love" with Bernardi. Tony’s out of work dad, Frank Sr., is played by Joe Hudelson, who bullies his son. Tony’s deeply religious mom, Flo, played by the fast talking Kristina Hudelson praises her eldest son, Frank Jr., played by the dapper Zaya Kolia for becoming a priest. Dialect Coach Kimily Conke kept the feature players on cue with their Brooklyn accents. Some of the actors drift a bit but the family is entertaining.
The hilarious local favorite Neal Pascua steals the show with his performance as Pete the dance instructor. He brings a “Richard Simmons” energy to the story and the opening night audience cheered his fun short moments on stage. His performance proves this actor is versatile as he also played one of Tony's butch pals.
The predictable subplot of Tony’s boys Bobby C played by Blackburn, and his girlfriend, Pauline, played by the standout Brigitte Losey, who he gets pregnant and stresses about it. Blackburn, nails Helfer’s disco choreography and sings like a dream, he makes the audience buy into Bobby C’s dilemma in the song “Dog Eat Dog”. Yet the camp brief treatment of his fate becomes laughable.
Notable performances include the powerhouse Camille Edralin as Candy, the disco's versatile singer who rocks in “Disco Inferno”. The disco's ringmaster Monty played by the exceptional Joe Hudelson, who inspires the dancers to greater feats as he sings "Open Sesame" and "More Than a Woman". Edralin is an absolute standout with her Act II opener, "Nights on Broadway" with a sexy rendition of the Bee Gees hit, she squeezes every bit of emotion hidden beneath the beat. She also joins Monty and Tony in rousing versions of "Night Fever" and "You Should be Dancing".
Sound designer Zak Stamps keeps the audio mix excellent with the 10 piece orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey. The 70’s look is clean and perfect for the men in their brown leather Brooklyn jackets and provides the disco duds for the women, including the flashy performance outfits designed by costume designer Tammy Berlin. The wigs by Alexis Lazar highlighted by Pascua’s look as the dance instructor are right are perfect 70's hair.
Sammi Hildebrandt as Annette delivers an aching “If I Can’t Have You,” Absten and Bernardi turn up the heat on “How Deep Is Your Love.” Along with the full force ensemble, Kylie Abucay, Katie Edralin, Carlos Guerrero, Javi Harnley, Sofia Costantini, Erin Gentry, Anastasia Cooper, Miko Ison, Johann Santos, turn the sound and sizzling choreography of “Jive Talkin’” into a highlight of the production.
Stage manager Tim Niupalau and his team Kate Patton and Gino Vellandi move the set from living room, to dance studio and finally to Dance Club Odyssey 2001 with ease. The running time is a bit long, but the flashy dancing and disco-era songs are fun. Helfer’s dynamite dance numbers are the highlight, along with the intense energy and terrific voices from this full force company. The script has been rewritten and tweaked and altered through various versions of the show so that what remains is a series of strung together clichés. At times I wanted the characters to just keep singing and dancing, and skip the dialogue entirely.
Fans who have affection to the disco era will enjoy the nostalgic throwback to the 70’s, the dancing singing and acting works well. But Tony and his paint can need more of a reason to be staged into a two and half hour musical. Next up at Broadway By The Bay is Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA that will close out the season. The musical opens November 2nd. But in the meantime find your old bell bottoms and high rise shoes and join the cast of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for the dance contest of the fall.
Broadway By the Bay Presents
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
Story by Nik Cohn, adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood
in collaboration with Bill Oaks
North American version written by
Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti. Featuring Songs by the Bee Gees
Directed by Joshua Marx
Music Director Alicea Jeffrey
CHOREOGRAPHER NICOLE HELFER
Must Close August 26th
2215 Broadway Street
Redwood City Ca
Two hours and 45 minutes
Photos courtesy of Mark & Tracy Photography
Videos produced by Tracy Martin
LOBBY PICTURES BY
Mark & Tracy Photography