‘Saturday Night Fever’: It moves when there’s music
July 16, 2019
By Barbara Schuler
Really, it’s all about the white suit. Even the briefest glimpse of the famous outfit drew a smattering of applause from the audience at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater for “Saturday Night Fever.” So imagine the reaction when Michael Notardonato, playing Brooklyn bad boy Tony Manero, finally struts center stage in that iconic outfit.
The thin musical adaptation of the 1977 film, which has been revised off and on since its 2000 Broadway run, cleans up the story to the point that it’s little more than a device to get to the next song (there seems to be a lot of that on area stages right now). When there’s no singing, the show is flat and humorless (seeing it the day after the big New York City blackout, the only real laugh came courtesy of a ConEd joke). If you’re looking for dramatic intensity or plot-driven action, rent the movie.
On the other hand, if you spent any time in a disco in the ’70s (or wish you had), the show, with music mostly by the Bee Gees, will make for an entertaining couple of hours. Notardonato, who has toured nationally and internationally in the role, does not have the swagger of John Travolta, who shot to stardom in the movie (yes, TV fans already knew him from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” but this sealed the deal). Vocally, he can carry hits like “Stayin’ Alive,” and as a dancer he’s got the goods to justify his status as king of the club.
Staged by Engeman’s producing artistic director Richard Dolce, the show features strong performances by the women in Tony’s orbit. Long Island actress Missy Dowse as Stephanie does a fine job in her duet with Tony of the closing “How Deep is Your Love,” and Andrea Dotto as Annette makes the emotional “If I Can’t Have You” a heartbreaker. And a word for Gabriella Mancuso, playing nightclub singer Candy, a character not in the film, who raises the roof with “Disco Inferno.”
Choreographer Breton Tyner-Bryan gives the cast — accomplished dancers all — the right moves on the slick set (the towering Verrazzano Bridge is impressive) by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, who also provided the impossibly shiny disco duds.
In this era of sensitivity to triggers, the theater felt it necessary to post a sign warning that disco lights would be used throughout the theater. Seriously? Who would expect anything less, though they really don’t get going full blast until the by-now ubiquitous megamix of the best songs post curtain call. And, yes, everyone leaves with “burn, baby, burn” ringing in their ears.