The Robert Stigwood and Jon B. Platt production of Saturday Night Fever — The Musical, presented June 3-8 by Broadway Series South, may not make you want to boogie-oogie-oogie all night long. But if you are a certain age — and still have a flashy set of disco duds squirreled away in your closet — Nan Knighton's high-octane 1998 stage adaptation of the 1977 film that made television actor John Travolta a movie star will make you want to get up and dance. At the very least, it will make you want to dust off those old Bee Gees albums and give them spin — provided you still have your trusty turntable.
Travolta, who turns 50 on February 18, 2004, was only 21 when he started playing lovable long-haired high-school class clown Vinnie Barbarino in "Welcome Back, Kotter" in 1975. Then, two years later, he wowed film critics with his gritty adult performance as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.
A bored, restless, and generally unfulfilled Brooklyn paint-store clerk by day, Manero (played by Joey Calveri in Saturday Night Fever — The Musical) became a disco king by night when he donned his trademark white polyester suit and danced the wee hours away at 2001 Odyssey. His only problem was finding the right dance partner.
Annette (Dena DiGiacinto), the neighborhood girl who loves him, can't quite trip the light fantastic like Stephanie Mangano (Jennie Marshall), a foxy older woman and vastly more experienced dancer who works as a secretary in Manhattan. So, Tony finds himself torn between two women.
Joey Calveri is terrific as Tony. He retains just enough of the familiar John Travolta strut and gestures, but makes the role his own in a heartfelt performance that helped bring the opening-night audience (June 3) in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to its feet for a lengthy standing ovation and an encore.
Calveri sparkles in the show's song-and-dance segments, where he is usually paired with a couple of real gems. Dena DiGiacinto's poignant portrait of the "good girl" (Annette) tugs at the audience's heartstrings, and Jennie Marshall's passionate portrayal of the "bad girl" (Stephanie) peels back that character's tough-girl veneer long enough for the audience to see the good heart beating underneath the sometimes cynical exterior of this ambitious career girl.
Barry James provides comic relief as Monty the overweight and oversexed DJ. Spencer Rowe and Cameron Stevens are good as Mr. Fusco, Tony's gruff but good-hearted boss at the paint store, and his troubled running buddy Bobby C; and John J. Almanza and Serena L. Benson are electrifying during the 2001 Odyssey dance contest as Cesar and Maria, a flamboyant Puerto Rican couple denied first place only because of the prejudice of the judges.
With its young and very, very talented ensemble and veritable hit parade of classic Bee Gees songs — including "Stayin' Alive," "Disco Inferno," "Night Fever," "If I Can't Have You," "You Should Be Dancing" "Jive Talkin'," and "How Deep is Your Love?" — Saturday Night Fever — The Musical is a winner; and the show's traveling orchestra, conducted by musical director Kevin Farrell, really cooks. That highly talented ensemble includes associate conductor Kep Kaeppeler (keyboards), musical coordinator William Meade, John Serry (keyboards),Tristan Avakian (guitar), Donald Yellech (drums), Jordan Jancz (bass), Steve Eidem (trumpet), Tansie Mayer (saxophone), and Andrew Williams (trombone).
Superbly staged on Broadway and on tour by director and choreographer Arlene Phillips, Saturday Night Fever showcases splendid Brooklyn and Manhattan sets by Robin Wagner; dazzling 1970s costumes by Suzy Benzinger; evocative lighting by Andrew Bridge; provocative musical supervision, dance, and vocal arrangements of Phil Edwards; and soaring orchestrations of Nigel Wright. On opening night, there were a few problems with Mick's Potter sound design, but they have no doubt been fixed by now.
Saturday Night Fever — The Musical — adapted by Nan Knighton, in collaboration with Arlene Phillips, Paul Nicholas, and Robert Stigwood — is a pleasant surprise: a Broadway musical that captures the essence of the vintage film that inspired it. By having the cast members sing the best-selling soundtrack live, Knighton et al. give the characters added dimensions. Purists may miss the trademark falsettos of The Bee Gees (brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb), but most theatergoers will enjoy — indeed, relish — this fresh — and, at times, very funny — take on this classic film that helped make disco king during the late 1970s.
Broadway Series South presents Saturday Night Fever — The Musical Thursday-Friday, June 5-6, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 7, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 8, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $16-$66. 919/834-4000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/844061 [inactive 12/03] or 919/231-4575 (groups of 20 or more). http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2002-2003/encore.html#snf [inactive 4/04] or http://www.feverontour.com/ [inactive 11/03].