The Long Islander Review

Engeman’s Saturday Night Fever Burns Hot

 Michael Notardonato (Tony Manero), in a scene from the John W. Engeman Theater production of Saturday Night Fever. Photos by Michael Decristofaro
Michael Notardonato (Tony Manero), in a scene from the John W. Engeman Theater production of Saturday Night Fever. Photos by Michael Decristofaro
July 27, 2019
By Sophia Ricco

 

It’s hard not to tap your toes and bob your head when hearing “Stayin’ Alive” as your favorite disco classics take form in the ’70s spectacular musical “Saturday Night Fever.”

This energetic rendition of the blockbuster film will make anyone want to hit the dance floor and do the hustle. The classic movie gets a musical twist with characters singing and dancing their way through life’s challenges with the help of the Bee Gees and other disco legends. It tells the story of Tony Manero, played by Michael Notardonato, a teen dodging his problems through his love for dancing.

“It’s a coming of age story,” Notardonato said in an opening weekend interview. “It’s about this 19-year-old guy, that’s trying to break out of his no-good neighborhood and rise above the struggles he’s grown up around.”

Throughout the musical, Tony encounters characters who pull him in different directions. He finds himself consumed by Stephanie Mangano, played by Missy Dowse, a refined dancer that wants to escape Bay Ridge and make a new life for herself in Manhattan. As the pair practices for an upcoming dance competition, Tony realizes he wants more than living at home and working at a paint shop.

“The message I hope people take away is no matter how trapped or stuck you are in your current situation, you can overcome that by finding a few guiding lights in your life,” Notardonato said. “It’s about choosing your happiness and finding your own path.”

As Tony figures this out, he and the cast share sensational numbers on the 2001 Odyssey dance floor, with choreography that masters the decade’s scene. The cast moves with precision while performing, “Night Fever” and “You Should Be Dancing,” giving the feel of a crowded club moving in unity to their favorite song. These disco hits take new life when performed by Monty, played by Colin E. Liander, and Candy, played by Gabriella Mancuso, who perform soulful renditions of “Disco Inferno” and “More than a Woman.”

“Learning choreography for Saturday Night Fever, it’s very important to capture the 70s vocabulary, especially because the audience is familiar and grew up with this style,” Notardonato said. “We gotta give them a hustle.”

The actors commit to their roles completely, embodying Brooklyn through their accents, style and mannerisms. With casual, conversational dialogue, they build realistic relationships between friends, lovers and even parents and children. As a first generation Italian, Notardonato feels he can relate to his character and puts his own twist on the iconic role, while keeping famous scenes intact.

“When I play Tony, I like to bring out the youth in his character,” Notardonato said. “I play him a little goofy, because he is a ladies man and a bit of a womanizer, but he’s also 19 and doesn’t know much. He’s learning a lot in the time the audience sees him, you get to watch him grow up.”

You can’t have the Bee Gees, without a group of guys harmonizing and hitting those falsetto  high notes. Tony and his friends, who call themselves “The Faces” are the ultimate guy group, that move and groove in the song “Boogie Shoes.”

“We want the audience to take a trip back in time, have a nostalgic moment and maybe see the glimmer of their youth,” Notardonato said. “For people my age, we can relate to the characters and see that you can change anything about your life, you just have to go ahead and do it.”

Broadway World Review

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER THE MUSICAL at John W. Engeman Theater

July 18, 2019
By Anthony Hazzard & Scott Stolzenberg

BWW Review: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER THE MUSICAL at John W. Engeman Theater

Put on your bell-bottoms and hustle your way down to the Engeman Theater where “Saturday Night Fever The Musical” is electrifying groupies and keeping disco alive! The stage musical based on the 1977 movie starring John Travolta is an entrancing blast from the past and a blissful trip in a radical time machine.

Right where we left him, Tony Manero is still working in the paint store by day and has dance fever by night. His brother the priest stole the limelight at home and dancing is Tony’s love and passion, besides his hair. Michael Notardonato is our big star here and he is an outstanding Tony. In true Travolta fashion, Notardonato roped us in with his looks and moves from the very beginning and had us rooting for him the whole way. Whether putting on his boogie shoes or igniting a disco inferno, Notardonato carries the production on his theatrical shoulders and dazzles us from start to finish.

Poor Anette, played by a charming Andrea Dotto, wants Tony bad but he’s got his eyes set on the prize for best dancer and a Brooklyn born dancer/do-gooder Stephanie played by knockout Missy Dowse. Both Dotto and Dowse shake and shimmy their way into Tony’s heart and light up the dance floor every chance they get. Kudos to Stephanie for wanting to better herself yet our heart always went out for Anette!

Tony’s four main confidants and thugs are in terrific form. Matthew Boyd Snyder, Christopher Robert Hanford, Steven Dean Moore, and Casey Shane are all top notch performers with snappy moves and spirited voices. Look out for Mr. Snyder’s brilliant falsetto! Other major standouts include Gabriella Mancuso as Candy, Colin E. Liander in a multitude of roles, and a talented ensemble chock full of young stars and starlets.

BWW Review: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER THE MUSICAL at John W. Engeman TheaterThe retro choreography created by Breton Tyner-Bryan keeps the show soaring above the 70’s clouds along with the best of The Bee Gees song catalog performed by a swinging band led by Chris Rayis. Director Richard Dolce did a fine job essaying this cult musical to the Long Island stage.

When “Saturday Night Fever” the movie opened, fans flocked to it making it one of the most successful movie musicals in history. This groovy stage adaptation does not disappoint and for those of us old enough to have seen the movie about a hundred times, there’s certainly no harm in revisiting an old classic and gazing back into the disco ball now and again.

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Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: John W. Engeman Theater heats up the summer with ‘Saturday Night Fever’

July 18, 2019
By Melissa Arnold

 

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport is bringing out its disco balls and bell-bottoms this summer as it kicks off its 2019-20 mainstage season with “Saturday Night Fever.”

The high-energy musical delivers all the 1970s hits and fashion that’s made it a beloved classic for more than just baby boomers. The musical is based on the famous 1977 film of the same name that rocketed John Travolta into stardom. The film was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oaks, and the North American version was written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.

Directed by Richard Dolce, “Saturday Night Fever” is the story of Tony Manero, a 19-year-old ladies’ man from the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. It’s 1977, and Tony is restless, working a dead-end job in the shadow of the Verrazzano Bridge and dealing with his family’s scathing disapproval. It doesn’t help that his brother Frank Jr. is a priest, making Tony even more of a black sheep.

All of that fades away on the weekends, though, when Tony escapes to the local disco Odyssey 2001 to show off his skills on the dance floor. He’s got real talent and sets his sights on winning an upcoming dance competition that could be his ticket to a more fulfilling life.

Tony is quickly frustrated with his overeager dance partner, Annette, who’s more interested in winning a trip to his bedroom than a dance competition. To Annette’s chagrin, Tony is drawn to Stephanie, a lovely yet guarded dancer he meets at the club. Stephanie reluctantly agrees to enter the contest as Tony’s partner on the condition that it’s strictly business. But their passion at the disco is unmistakable, and romance is hard to resist.

While it’s difficult to compare anyone to John Travolta, Michael Notardonato makes the role of Tony seem effortless. A newcomer to the Engeman, Notardonato has also played Tony elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad — he was even nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Musical by the Connecticut Critics Circle for a past performance of the show. Notardonato’s silky vocals and expert footwork are a treat to take in.

Annette (Andrea Dotto) and Stephanie (Missy Dowse) are in contrast throughout most of the show: One is bold, the other withdrawn; one is full-on Brooklyn, the other tries to forget her roots. Both Dotto and Dowse are great dancers with strong vocals; newcomer Dotto tugs on the heartstrings with a powerful rendition of “If I Can’t Have You,” while Dowse’s multiple duets with Notardonato (“100 Reasons,” “What Kind of Fool”) are where she really shines.

Also at the heart of “Saturday Night Fever” are Tony’s knucklehead best friends who are prone to making bad decisions, including some that change their lives forever. Matthew Boyd Snyder, Christopher Robert Hanford, Steven Dean Moore and Casey Shane act like they’ve known each other forever. They play well off of one another and have no trouble getting laughs out of the crowd while also drawing empathy in the show’s darker moments.

The standout work for this show goes to the ensemble and orchestra — after all, it’s the soundtrack and dancing that drive “Saturday Night Fever.” Chris Rayis leads the band in foot-tapping, dance-in-your-seat favorites from the Bee Gees, including “Stayin’ Alive,” “Boogie Shoes” and “Disco Inferno.” The ensemble’s dance numbers, including “Jive Talkin’” and “Night Fever,” are among the best in the show.

Dance captain Kelsey Andres, choreographer Breton Tyner-Bryan and associate choreographer Emily Ulrich deserve accolades for the obvious hard work and effort that went into preparing the cast to be at the top of their game. Keep an eye out for Gabriella Mancuso who plays Candy, 2001 Odyssey’s professional singer. Her vocals are among the strongest in the entire cast, and definitely the most memorable.

The extra touches to the Engeman’s production of “Saturday Night Fever” help the audience feel like they’re a part of the show. Disco balls can be found both above the stage and in the lounge area, covering the entire theater in those characteristic funky lights we all love. The set is equally dazzling and showcased a wide variety of scenes. The mirrors in the dance studio, neon lights in the club, and a stunning, climbable Verrazzano Bridge made the show more realistic.

The only drawback in the musical version of “Saturday Night Fever” is the number of unanswered questions by the end of the show, but it’s still a fantastic performance that’s not to be missed. Stick around after the curtain call for a few extra songs, and don’t be afraid to dance in the aisle.

 

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Newsday Review

‘Saturday Night Fever’: It moves when there’s music

Michael Notardato plays Tony in “Saturday Night Fever” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Photo Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

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.

The Theatre Guide Review

Saturday Night Fever – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

Cast of Saturday Night Fever. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.
July 15, 2019
By Kristen Weyer

Bell-bottoms and disco abound at the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of Saturday Night Fever The Musical. This groovy throwback to the seventies is based on the story by Nik Cohn, and the 1977 Paramount/RSO movie starring John Travolta, and features the music of The Bee Gees.  It was adapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood and Bill Oaks, with the North American version being written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti.  This production is produced and directed by Richard Dolce, with choreography by Breton Tyner-Bryan.

Tony Manero (Michael Notardonato) is a 19 year old Brooklynite, with a lousy job and an unhappy home life.  His only joy is on the weekends, which he spends dancing at the disco and messing around with his friends, Bobby C (Matthew Boyd Snyder), Joey (Christopher Robert Hanford), Double J (Steven Dean Moore), and Gus (Casey Shane).  When he meets talented dancer Stephanie Mangano (Missy Dowse), they decide to enter a dance competition together.  Little does he know that this will mark a changing point for the rest of his life.

I feel that the enjoyment of this production is going to vary greatly, based mostly on the generation of the audiences.  If you lived through the seventies, were raised on the music of the time period, or just have fond memories of the original movie, then you’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely.  If you didn’t, weren’t, or don’t, then you probably won’t.  I found the plotline slow, and at points tedious.  The music, while time period appropriate and frequently fun, multiple times felt forced into the story rather than flowing from it.  The characters are annoying, abrasive, and difficult to get behind.  Even though you might feel badly for Tony at points, his personality is such that truly caring what happens to him is a fairly unattainable prospect.

Michael Notardonato (Tony Manero). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

The actual performance, however, can be fun.  The acting is great, the dancing lively and fun, and there are enough hip thrusts to rival Elvis.  Michael Notardonato makes a wonderful Tony, with an emotional voice, great dancing skills, and excellent characterization completed with brilliant facial expressions. He brings John Travolta to mind on more than one occasion.  Missy Dowse is amusing as the ignorant, social climber Stephanie.  Her lines are lovely and her singing is pleasant. Snyder, Hanford, Moore and Shane display skillful harmonies and dance moves throughout the show, and Andrea Dotto as Annette has a wonderful moment with an emotional performance of “If I Can’t Have You.”  Gabriella Mancuso as disco singer Candy, and Colin E. Liander as DJ Monty dive wholeheartedly into the era’s music.

Along with the talented ensemble, the orchestra under direction from Chris Rayis performed beautifully. Set and costume designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case made excellent use of the space, giving us an elevated bridge and even adding that slightly cramped feeling to the disco scenes. The delightful and time period appropriate costumes rounded out the feel of the show.  Saturday Night Fever is a groovy flashback into a bygone era, and don’t get out of your seat too early, the best part comes after the bows!

 

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