Thursday, February 05, 2004

Saturday Night Fever--The Musical (Playhouse Square Center)

Uninspiring 'SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER' dances way into the Palace

What do the theatre musicals ‘FAME,’ ‘SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS,’ ‘MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS,’ ‘GIGI’ and ‘BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS’ have in common? They were all movies before they were transferred into stage shows. And, they ranged from being flops to moderate successes. The latest entrant onto that list is and ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER—THE MUSICAL,’ which is now on its national tour.

Based on the 1977 film of the same name, it features the songs from the soundtrack by the Bee Gees and tells the story of a streetwise Brooklyn kid with a desire to make it big in NY. The film was the vehicle which capitulated John Travolta toward stardom. The score, which was backup music in the movie, has come front and center for the show. The songs are sung by the cast rather than being put forth by the Bee Gees. The score includes “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love?,’ and “Jive Talkin.”

From start to finish this is a dance show. The cast dances well, they are filled with youthful enthusiasm. Unfortunately, director/choreographer Arlene Phillips’ dance plan gets repetitious. She uses the same movements over and over. The hip thrusts, ceiling pointing, crotch grabs, and head rolls eventually become boring.

The cast, most of whom are in their first professional show, try hard, often too hard. It becomes very clear that Phillips selected the cast according to their dancing abilities, secondly for their singing and lastly, for their acting.
Emotional levels seem fake because shouting is substituted for strong emotions and the meaning of lines often gets lost. Phillips also has tried too hard to get sexual implication induced laughs rather than letting the lines develop on their own. This façade is aided by Suzy Benzinger’s costume designs which uses skin tight polyester and then more form fitting polyester.

The production stars Mentor native Tony Gonzalez as Tony. Gonzalez has a nice singing voice, but his forte is dancing. And dance he does! Gonzalez does not possess Travolta’s natural sexuality or acting abilities. The final effect is an acceptable if unspectacular portrayal. Heidi Suhr, who portrays Annette, who is in love with Tony, has a nice singing voice, but has difficulty developing a believable character. Kristin Piro, as Tony’s contest partner, is a fine dancer, but displays shallow acting abilities. Brandon Nix has a fine singing voice, but his character development is weak. You get the point!

The show’s music has a heavy disco sound. It is well played by the orchestra, though their volume often drowns out the words of the songs.

The show’s highlight is a background drop which illustrates the Verrazano Narrow Bridge complete with moving headlights of passing cars which appears in several scenes.

The curtain call, a no holds barred dancethon, had the audience on its feet clapping and moving.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER—THE MUSICAL’ is a contrived musical that gets a barely acceptable production at the Palace Theatre. It’s pretty sad to say of a supposedly professional show that the highlight is a gimmicky piece of scenery. ‘Nuff said!