The Drury Lane Oakbrook production of “Saturday Night Fever”, based on the 1977 smash film of the same name from Paramount/RSO that catapulted John Travolta into superstardom, opened last week. The show features the same music and lyrics by The Bee Gees with additional new music and lyrics by David Abbinanti.
The film greatly influenced fashion trends, dancing and music in the 1970s, not to mention all the nightclubs that installed strobe lights, fog machines and huge sparkling glitter balls over the dance floors. The production, directed and choreographed by Dan Knechtges, is a good effort but it leaves a lot to be desired.
Tony Manero, played by the energetic and likable Adrian Aguilar, and his friends find solace on the weekends at a local dance club, 2001 Odyssey. There they release their youthful eagerness with alcohol, dancing and women. The women they prey on are nothing more than sexual conquests rather than an object of affection. It’s hard to imagine anything like this coming out in today’s politically correct climate.
Poorly revised and rewritten for the Drury Lane stage by British writer Nik Cohn, the show is more parody than an attempt to capture the depth of the film that perfectly captured Manero’s life as a young man just out of high school. Manero’s dilemma is being trapped between his strict Italian Catholic home and the lack of a clear vision for his future. Working as a low level paint store clerk, he’s “going nowhere” to use a phrase from one of the show’s songs.
Utilizing a gold lame dressed singer, Candy (Glee’s Alex Newell), reminiscent of the 1978 disco-genre film “Thank God It’s Friday” and a few catch phrases from the film’s 1983 sequel, “Staying Alive”, also starring Travolta, is clearly staged for laughs. Any resemblance to the film’s pertinence to the 1977 storyline is purely accidental.
The story falls flat more often than it should. Cohn stifles probing deeper into Manero’s struggle to find his purpose. He wastes scenes elevating two female characters, Annette (Landree Fleming), who pursues Manero to no avail, and Pauline (Allyson Graves), Bobby C’s pregnant girlfriend, to relevance. Fleming takes a good turn on the song “If I Can’t Have You” but the Roberta Duchak’s musical direction doesn’t match her powerful voice.
Aguilar does the obligatory audience-pleasing dance floor solo, but the integral scenes with his family at the dinner table fail to define his limited support. What really takes away from the storyline is scenic designer Kevin Depinet’s use of the Odyssey as the play’s backdrop. The red velvet walls give the set the look of a New Orleans bordello instead of a slick dance club.
The backdrop particularly diminishes the scene where Manero describes in great detail to Stephanie (Erica Stephan) the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, his escape route out of Brooklyn. A bench downstage would have served the scene and the actors better.
A weak rewrite, an orchestra lacking the wattage to power some great songs and some unnecessary characters weaken the production. It would be better to order out a pizza and watch the DVD. However, it has its moments and gives the audience just enough fever to hum the soundtrack on the way home. I give it two stars (out of four).
“Saturday Night Fever” at Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook has been extended through April 9. For tickets and information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com. (Note: The extension changes the run of the next production “Chicago” to April 20 through June 18 with opening night on April 28 at 8 p.m.)