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