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Saturday Night Fever

Dances are the Star of Broadway "Fever"
By Marion Garmel
Indianpolis Star - 10.17.01

If you can remember when you were 19 and the whole world dumped on you, then you're going to love Saturday Night Fever.

The stage adaptation of the 1977 film that captured the allure of disco has come to the Murat Theatre on the Broadway in Indianapolis series. Complete with pulsing drums, flashing lights and Monty the disc jockey screaming his "funkalicious" welcome to the Odyssey 2001 disco club, it's a fast-paced romp through the blue-collar world of young Brooklyn street toughs on a fast track to nowhere.

Except . . . except when Tony Manero, the hero, is on the dance floor, swiveling his hips and tapping his toes and striking the most electric poses. Then he's a somebody, and everybody knows it.

Up until the end, the plot seems just an excuse to string together more than a dozen throbbing songs by the legendary '70s singing group the Bee Gees. But then the story of ambitious but good-hearted Tony takes a turn for the serious, and he becomes a real hero, instead of plastic dance hall hero.

Richard H. Blake may not be the best dancer on the stage. That honor is reserved for the Puerto Ricans. But he has a nice, easy style and a softness in his nature that makes you want to pick him up and hug him. All of the girls want to dance with him, and then bed him. But he's only interested in dancing.

In that he's matched by Jeanine Meyers as Stephanie Mangano, the Brooklyn girl with Manhattan aspirations. Boy, can she dance! Aileen Quinn sings beautifully as Annette, the girl whom Tony does not love.

The dances, choreographed by Arlene Phillips, are the star of the show. But the ingenious set, designed by Robin Wagner, comes in a close second. Either in the disco, with lights flashing, smoke rising and drums pulsing, or under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, where looming concrete buttresses frame tiny strings of light that become cars moving on the roadway, this a visually compelling show.

The company dances and sings exceptionally well, with Joseph Ricci's Monty standing out as a symbol of those wild times. Jim Ambler is an effective Bobby C, Tony's friend who inadvertently impregnates his girlfriend and doesn't know what to do about it. Also turning in strong performances are Rich Hebert and Suzanne Costallos as Tony's parents.

Lafayette native Scott Beck is credited with playing the roles of Fusco, Tony's employer at the paint shop, and Jay, Stephanie's uptown boyfriend.

The dancing is infectious, and the costumes are great, with spaghetti strap dresses slit up the gazoo, bell-bottomed trousers and capri pants. This is a glittering musical that also has an affecting story to tell. As the song says, it's all about Stayin' Alive.

Saturday Night Fever - The Musical
By John Garcia - 8.22.01

When I first saw SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (SNF), the film that is, I must admit I became addicted to disco music and dancing. The pulsating music with its overload of strings and thumping bass was just such fun music to my ears. The film that propelled John Travolta into stardom (and his first Oscar nomination) was good, but the only scenes that I really wanted to see over and over again were the ones in the 2001 Odyssey Disco. Sure disco music did not change the world or created peace for mankind, but when that genre of music was at its peak, society was tired of the world's problems,as well as their own. They just wanted to dance and get lost in a world of colored lights, fog, strobe lights, and a giant disco ball swirling above them.

SNF, the musical began its life in London back in 1998, there it became a major hit at the West End. Then broadway brought the musical in 1999, and I knew I had to get to NYC and see it, no matter what.

I sat in the darkness of the Minskoff just absorbing the excitement and dancing of the show, I just fell in love with the production.

Here is the key to enjoy this "Night Fever" musical. If you are looking for high art, deep sociological or major character development, or a production that raises the bar of emotional and deep meaning musical theatre-this is NOT the show for you!

Nay sayers and the "nose in the air" theatergoer will just hate this show,thus I am letting you know now to just stay home and watch something on BRAVO or PBS for your high art kick.

But if you can go into the music hall with an open mind, to just want to be entertained, to just sit back and have fun, then this is the PERFECT musical for you!

I agree that SNF is at times camp, fluff, nothing of true hard core emotional substance, but so what? I love the serious musical just as much as the next person. Such deep and powerful musicals as RENT, PARADE, CABARET,EVITA, and FOLLIES have touched me deeply and have moved me to tears, or to discuss with friends the emotional impact that they have within them, but I also sometimes just want to sit back and just enjoy the sugar coated fluff fun of a show.

As with any touring production, there are some alterations from the broadway production to this current national tour now housed in the music hall.

Here's a few examples:

On broadway, the musical started with (as does the London Cast recording) sounds of traffic, city life, etc. the stage itself reveals a full scale replica of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with real tiny cars with actual working headlights moving down the bridge. Then the bridge would be lifted up to the rafters, thus revealing the mammoth 50 person cast, with "Tony" on an upper platform, in the famous pose of the finger pointing in the air, with a strobe light effect on the tip of his finger-just like the logo on the PLAYBILL. Behind and above the cast are actual store and marquee lights in various colors.

Last night the tour opens with a purple scrim going up (the broadway logo and scrim was orange as was the London production) to reveal a painted backdrop of the store/marquee signs, no bridge or mini moving cars. No platform, but "Tony" all alone in the pose-minus the strobe effect, then the cast comes on stage to join him in the first company number. The tour has downsized the cast now to about a 30 member company.

The 2001 Odyssey disco has also been redesigned somewhat, which did disappoint me. The broadway discothèque was eye candy galore! You could hear the producers saying, "money is no option here!" and it showed.

First off, the "outside" of the disco was this 3-D actual wall with a lighted marquee saying, 2001 Odyssey. The tour's version is now a painted scrim with a white light hitting the lettering. I didn't like it at all.

The touring version of the discotheque is missing the center roof section of the disco, on broadway it was a humongous "roof" of white tile with lighting spearing out of it and the largest mirror disco ball I had ever seen! The back wall of the set was this massive bank of lighting units that poured outrageous colors onto the dancers. Also in act two for the beginning of the "dance competition", the aforementioned "roof" is on the ground, it rises (with ear popping sound effects of a rocket being taken off), with fog spewing from it, revealing behind the dancers a massive wall that resembled a bass unit. You know how on sound systems have those little bars of light that show the bass, tremble,etc- think of it as an actual wall, and that was what was behind them.

The touring disco has a smaller mirror ball, no massive bank of lighting,no "roof tile", nor the bass unit set piece. But it does have a "junior" size version of the back wall of light, although last night it looked crooked and even, as though it was hung up wrong.

Finally in set differences, The "Manero" house was a two level unit, bare in set decor mind you, but still two levels. Tony's bedroom was above the dining room. The tour has them on the same floor level on opposite sides of the stage. Also "Stephanie's" apartment on broadway had a these white long windows with blinds, and radiators. The touring only has a chair/lamp mini unit.

I did miss the bridge and especially the more elaborate discothèque set. But I was in for a surprise when it came to the performances!

Richard H. Blake tackles the role of "Tony Manero", the role that made Travolta a household name. James Carpinello originated the role for broadway, whose performance I caught that evening in New York.

Carpinello was outstanding in the role, but he sorely lacked some of the dance technique of the other male dancers. He moved well, but didn't really sell the choreography. Also Carpinello seemed to be imitating Travolta's brooklyn accent, and even line delivery, not giving his own take on the role, thus you felt you were watching an actor match the screen version took closely.

Last night Richard H. Blake was phenomenal. I have had the pleasure of seeing Blake in the broadway version of SNF as "Gus", as well as "Roger" in RENT and then here in the music hall in FOOTLOOSE as "Chuck Cranston".

Blake brings Arlene Phillips' eye popping choreography to life in ways that Carpinello could never reach to. Blake brings raw sexual intensity to his dance, from slithering pelvic thrusts to full masculine control, all the while making sure his 70's hair does stay in place.There were times throughout the evening that when he would do multiple turns in his dancing, you could visibly see the sweat fly off the guy! He was dancing to full throttle, and it showed! Blake is in practically every single full dance company number, and each time he delivers the goods,keeping his energy, control, and professional dance skills at full speed.

Blake also does not do the over the top Brooklyn accent as his New York counterpart did. Sure Blake sounds very Brooklyn "ish", but not sounding like Travolta. Since seeing him in RENT, I know he had the pop vocals for the disco flavored score. His tenor voice danced on the BeeGees score with panache and with full belt at times! Vocally his best moment comes in the Act Two solo, "Immortality" in which he lets his voice bash against the music hall walls, this after the entire "dance competition" sequence! Talk about breath control!

Blake is mesmerizing! I've enjoyed his work before, but here he surpasses my expectations of him.

Jeanine Meyers as "Stephanie Mangano" is another knock out performance in the production. On broadway I saw Paige Price, who originated the role. Price was quite good. But Meyers blows her out of the water! The actress has legs for days to begin with! Meyers has one of those beautiful dancer bodies that looks full and sexy, not rail thin and bony. Meyers punches the humor much more than Price did. But where Meyers will just knock your socks off is her dancing and singing. She totally overpowered Price's performance of the girl who wants to leave her roots behind her as she tries to make it in Manhattan. Meyer's big ballad, "What Kind of Fool" was a major vocal highlight of the evening. This actress belts to the heavens, and its just superb!

Meyers dance technique is just breathtaking! She moves with such grace,ease, floating almost in the slower pieces, Blake and she are so perfect during their duet dance and song of "More than a woman". But when she needs to get down and boogie, the girl rocks! Price's broadway costume for the dance competition scene had ruffles, with too much material. Meyer's costume for this same scene is tighter, sexier, and touched with dabs of rhinestones.

Meyers and Blake also give high octane sexual chemistry at times, especially during the "more than a woman" number. They make a great pair.

Alieen Quinn (who was "Annie" in the film version of ANNIE) is "Annette", the girl who is so in love with Tony, only he does not want it nor her. Blake and Quinn have the hardest roles in SNF for this reason: Travolta and Donna Pescow (the film version Annette) delivered such amazing performances for the film, its so imbedded in the public's mind, that they have a battle to wipe those performances out of your mind.

Blake succeeds in this, on broadway, Orfeh portrayed "Annette" and she was brilliant. Quinn, while is quite good, just cannot reach Orfeh's heartbreaking performance.

Quinn's first number, "If I can't have you" is a number that is to bring the house down. Orfeh's rendition of that song was just so powerful and emotional, it was a major highlight of the evening. Quinn just does not belt the song, nor does she bring the meaning of what the song means more clearly. She does do better in Act Two in the duet with Meyers in "Nights of Broadway". While Quinn was good, I sorely missed Orfeh's performance.

Jim Ambler gives a splendid performance as "Bobby C", the picked upon and ignored one of Manero's group of friends. Bobby C is the character that gets his girlfriend pregnant and he doesn't know what to do, and his best friends won't even listen to him. Ambler really gives it his all in his solo, "First & Last/Tragedy", another tenor voice that belts the song with conviction, with a solid vibrato that really supports that belt.

Also delivering outstanding performances are Joel Calveri (Double J), Andy Karl (Joey), and Danial Jerod Brown (Gus) as Tony's little gang of Brooklyn buddies. These three actor/dancers also delivered high powered dancing performances.

Joseph Ricci was quite enjoyable as the DJ/Dance instructor, "Monty" as well.

Each and every dancer/singer in the ensemble was exhilarating! They perform this 2 and a half hour dance marathon musical with amazing skill and talent! I was exhausted just watching them! They really all were fantastic. This unstoppable dance company brings such life and amazing energy and skill to Phillip's dazzling choreography. Every dance number is a feast for the eyes!

But special kudos must go to the two other couples competing in in the dance competition scene.

Stacy Martin (Shirley) and Aubrey Smith (Chester) are the african american dance duo who do the number "Open Sesame". Both performers added such hysterical facial expressions and ad-libs during the number that they just made you laugh out loud. But their dancing is superb as well!

Ryan Ashley (Cesar) & Natalie Willes (Maria) are the dance couple from Puerto Rico who do the number "Salsation". This couple alone steal that whole dance number with their gravity defying acrobatic dancing that leaves you begging for more! Also Ashley and Willes release sexual heat in both their bodies and dancing that you might need to fan yourself with your program afterwards. These two dancers are incredible!

I must thank the entire SNF company for keeping their energy, focus, and commitment throughout the entire evening, for they were playing to such a dead and lifeless Tuesday night crowd. When I saw it on broadway, we-the audience-screamed, cheered, and just showed our appreciation to the cast for giving us one fantastic number after another.

This national touring cast also does the same thing here, but are only met with polite applause from the stiff and emotionless crowd, I'm sorry! I promise you that not all Music Hall crowds are not like that, maybe there was a two for one special for funeral home owners at the box office Tuesday night!

I hope you will go see SNF, just go and have fun! Its not meant to create a new form of artistic theatre, but to provide an evening of infectious dancing and singing. This national tour and its superlative leads are here to make you forget your problems that are outside in the real world, just like the film was trying to do, and in my opinion they succeeded ten times over!


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