Disco is back with 'Fever' in Westchester

Published: Monday, October 3, 2016 By: Tom Holehan Source: CT Post

Disco is back with 'Fever' in Westchester - Entertainment - Post-Chronicle

Get out your platform shoes and dry clean that white suit! “Saturday Night Fever” is back and theatergoers looking for a disco fix can currently find what they need at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, New York.

In the ongoing, checkered history of feature films adapted to the Broadway musical stage, there have been far more misses than hits. For every smash like “The Lion King” or “The Producers,” flops like “Footloose,” “9 to 5” and, heaven help us, “Rocky,” have come and gone. “Saturday Night Fever” falls somewhere in between in the success ratio (it ran just over 500 performances on Broadway in 2000). More than most, however, this adaptation still proves a rather clunky transfer to the stage.

Featuring a string of hit songs by The Bee Gees, “Saturday Night Fever” is best remembered for its dynamic music and for launching John Travolta into the movie stratosphere. Travolta played Tony Manero, a working-class Italian-American whose dreary job, and home life were redeemed by dancing with friends at the 2001 Odyssey disco every Saturday night. The film was a blockbuster and the Bee Gees score was lauded as one of the best ever composed for a film.

The music is really the best part of this adaptation, which tries valiantly but without much success to bring the raw energy of the film to the stage. At WBT, director/choreographer Richard Stafford has a youthful and energetic cast at his disposal and the disco production numbers definitely deliver. But the grittier elements of the film get the PG treatment for stage and what is ultimately lacking here is the heart of the movie which, at its core, was a sensitive coming-of-age story. The musical gets bogged down with its dull secondary romance and then leaves another subplot about Tony’s brother, a priest, adrift in the storytelling. In general, most of the book scenes at WBT prove to be listless and slow.

On the plus side, Jacob Tischler, taking on the iconic role of Tony Manero, is a fine actor and terrific dancer. While he struggles vocally at times with both the opening song, “Stayin’ Alive” and “Tragedy” later in the evening, he more than compensates with a fully-formed character; raw, edgy and charismatic on and off the dance floor. This is no easy task given the formidable shoes he is filling and the inherent problems with the book, but Tischler remains a commanding presence that dominates this production. As the two women in his life, Gianna Yanelli and Alexandra Matteo are fine and can both belt songs like “If I Can’t Have You” and “What Kind of Fool” so they reverberate off the rafters. But there are also awkward transitions throughout that just seem to shoehorn songs into the story, the worst offender being “Jive Talking” which, for no apparent reason, takes place between Tony’s best buds while playing baseball.

As set and costume designers, Michael Bottari and Ronald Case’s work includes a fairly good rendering of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and their pastel-colored bell bottoms and flowered shirts bring back the fashion-challenged 1970s with a vengeance. For lovers of the music (and there are many), it all still sounds pretty great on the WBT stage under musical director Ryan Edward Wise. Disco nostalgia might be a nice distraction about now, don’t you think?

“Saturday Night Fever” has a split schedule at the Westchester Broadway Theatre playing now through November 27 and then returning December 29 through January 29, 2017.  For further information call the theatre box office at: 914.592.2222 or visit: www.broadwaytheatre.com.