A New Saturday Night Fever
The Drury Lane Theatre's production of the musical highlights the heyday of the disco era
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AS theatergoers enter Drury Lane Theatre––and before reaching their seats––they get a clear sense of what’s about to come. In the walk back to July 1977, they are met with the sight of a glittering disco ball hovering over the stage while a small boom box blares Donna Summer’s disco classic “I Feel Love.”
A few minutes later the curtain goes up on the stage version of Saturday Night Fever, running through April 9 and based on the 1977 hit film Saturday Night Fever, which starred John Travolta and was one of the most significant markers in the history of the electrified disco era when locations such as New York’s Studio 54 became hugely popular and exclusive. The music. The fashion. The dances. The anything-goes attitude––all illustrated a fun-loving era that was characterized by coolness and good times.
As it is in the film and the original story by Nik Cohn, the Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti-written musical tells the story of Brooklyn’s most suave teenager, Tony Manero, who is admired for the dancing ability he showcases each weekend at the local disco, 2001 Odyssey. Stepping into Travolta’s shoes on stage is Jeff Award-nominated actor Adrian Aguilar, no stranger to the Chicagoland theater scene and a performer who has the swag that embodies the cocky, preening Manero. He even masters the so-called “Brooklyn Strut” that’s so prominently displayed by Travolta in the opening scene of the movie. In explaining his confident stride on stage, Aguilar says: “The walk is saying don’t mess with me. And [because of it] you don’t get mugged as much.”
The multitalented Aguilar––who dances, sings and makes some forget that Travolta wore that white suit––displays a level of talent that supports his selection for the lead role. “We mounted an unprecedented search for the perfect actor to play Tony,” says Kyle DeSantis, president of Drury Lane Productions. “In keeping with our commitment to put the nation’s very best artists on our stage, we held auditions for this demanding role all across the country, including in Chicago, New York and, for the first time, in Los Angeles and Houston. Out of the many talented artists we saw, no one came close to Chicago’s unparalleled Adrian Aguilar as Tony.”
At the forefront of the disco phenomenon 40 years ago was the insistently thumping rhythms that were the driving force behind the feel-good culture. Much of that music––many disco anthems–help to effectively shape the Drury Lane production. As part of that song list are several Bee Gees tunes, including “Staying Alive,” “Night Fever,” “More Than A Woman,” “Nights on Broadway,” “Jive Talkin’,” “You Should Be Dancing” and “How Deep Is Your Love?” Other popular artists contribute familiar tunes such as “Disco Inferno” (The Trammps), “Boogie Shoes” (K.C. and The Sunshine Band) and “If I Can’t Have You” (Yvonne Elliman).
With the exception of some minor script changes and limited omissions from the film, the musical, directed and choreographed by Tony Award-nominee Dan Knechtges, is basically true to the movie, including focus on Manero’s quarreling parents (played by Bret Tuomi and Marya Grandy) and his priest/brother (played by Skylar Adams), who is worshipped by his mother, but he has misgivings about his future. In the midst of the family squabbles, Tony still has to try to navigate a complicated relationship with his heartthrob and dancing partner, Stephanie Mangaro, played masterfully by Erica Stephan, who returned to Drury Lane after a previous performance in White Christmas. The lovelorn Annette (played by Landree Fleming) doesn’t make things easier for Manero with her constant and overly aggressive efforts to get him to fall in love with her.
The cast––including Joe Capstick, Nick Cosgrove, Will Lidke and Brandon Springman, who play Aguilar's longtime, neighborhood buddies––are transformed into believable characters of the late ‘70s by costume designer Rachel Laritz, who highlights the fashion of the era that included bell-bottomed, polyester pants and colorful, silk, patterned shirts. Further, Kevin Depinet expertly turned the stage into a credible replica of the 2001 Odyssey nightclub, complete with a lofty, easily viewed position for talkative deejay Dishon Milton and ample area to showcase the dancers and Knechtges’ solid choreography.
For many observers, Saturday Night Fever the musical is a return to days gone by and for others (read: younger) it could serve to be a powerful and educational introduction to one of the most amazing periods in American history.
In the musical Saturday Night Fever at Drury Lane Theatre, Adrian Aguilar and Erica Stephan re-create moves from the movie Saturday Night Fever.
Aguilar (center) is joined by (left to right) Joe Capstick, Brandon Springman, Nick Cosgrove and Will Lidke. He confronts (below) Annette (Landree Fleming). At bottom, the full cast poses.
The performance schedule for all productions is as follows: Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Student group tickets start as low as $30 and tickets for senior citizens start at $40 for matinees. Dinner and show packages are also available. For individual ticket-on-sale dates and ticket reservations, call the Drury Lane Theatre box office at 630.530.0111, TicketMaster at 800.745.3000 or visit DruryLaneTheatre.com.