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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Saturday Night Fever
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Seussical and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying


Jeremy Jason Sartin and Melissa Rapelje (center)
and Cast

Photo by Shari Corbett / Shari Corbett Photography
The 1977 Saturday Night Fever film catapulted John Travolta and the songs of the Bee Gees to superstar status right at the height of the disco craze. Forty years later this somewhat simple story of a young man in Brooklyn who works in a dead-end job and only truly feels alive when he is dancing at his local discotheque still makes for a fairly moving story about people doing what they need to do in order to "stay alive." The film was adapted for the stage in 1998 and Arizona Broadway Theatre presents a recently updated version of the musical, which features a few new songs written specifically for the show, with a talented and energetic cast who excel in delivering the production's numerous spectacular dance numbers.

The plot follows the film script almost exactly. Nineteen-year-old Tony Manero and his circle of friends all have jobs, families, and relationships that are troubled. They live for going out on Saturday night to Club 2001, their local Brooklyn disco where Tony is the king of the dance floor. Unlike his deadbeat friends, Tony at least has some ambition and works at becoming an even better dancer. When he meets the slightly older newcomer to the club, Stephanie, whom he wants to partner with in order to win the club's dance competition and its $1,000 prize, he sees the possibility of a better life outside of Brooklyn, away from his friends and family who are holding him back.

Unfortunately, the fairly basic plot doesn't provide much character development beyond Tony and Stephanie, with the majority of the supporting characters and their relationships having very little depth. Only Tony's neurotic friend Bobby C and Tony's former dance partner Annette get much to do beyond uttering a few lines of dialogue. Also, while the book scenes are short, they still drag in spots. These scenes might have worked better on screen where close-ups and editing can provide a stronger emotional connection to the characters than they do on stage. While the plot may be thin and predictable, the numerous, well known, pulsating hit songs from the soundtrack are the driving force of the show. "Stayin' Alive," "You Should Be Dancing," "Night Fever," "Disco Inferno," and "More Than a Woman" are just some of the well-known soundtrack songs included. David Abbinanti wrote a few new tunes that help flesh out the feelings of some of the characters which is an improvement over previous versions of this show.

While most of the ABT cast are slightly older than the age that Tony and his friends are supposed to be, they all work well in delivering portrayals that, though slightly stereotypical, are indicative of the 1970s. They also can all dance incredibly well.

As Tony, Jeremy Jason Sartin has the perfect swagger and savviness of a young man who feels he is the king of the world when he's on the dance floor but also displays a good balance of eagerness with just a hint of uncertainty when faced with situations he isn't quite ready to deal with. Melissa Rapelje is excellent as Stephanie. Like Sartin, her Brooklyn accent is impeccable and she does well in portraying this young woman who feels like she has to continually brag about her new life outside of Brooklyn to impress others. These are two people who feel stuck and are just trying to find some way to make their lives better, and both Sartin and Rapelje create realistic characters without making them carbon copies of their film counterparts. They are very good dancers and form a duo that you root for.

In smaller parts, Nick Anastasia is good as Bobby C, Tony's friend who is faced with a relationship dilemma and seeks Tony's advice, and Deanna Jelardi does well as Annette, Tony's rejected former dance partner who is desperate to reconnect with him. Also, Katie Hart provides powerhouse vocals on some of the show's biggest hits.

Director and choreographer Stephen Casey infuses the entire production with a big dose of heightened energy filled with a dollop of sexual tension the alcohol and drug induced disco crazed '70s were famous for. He adds a decent amount of pathos to the more dramatic dialogue moments, though he can't do much to speed them along or provide better endings to a few of the moments that end abruptly. His varied and energetic dances are fun, animated, and period perfect and include several of the film's signature moves without being exact reproductions.

While Michaela Lynne Stein's set design may go the minimalistic route, with just a few simple though effective drops and flats to represent the several locations in the show, her exceptional back wall panel, made up of tall angular blocks slightly reminiscent of the Manhattan skyscrapers just across the East River from Brooklyn, stretches across the entire stage and pulsates in always-changing colors. This impressive wall of rich colors complements and plays off the vibrant costumes from Morgan Andersen and excellent wig and makeup designs by Amanda Gran that sensationally display all that was so horribly bad in the bold patterns, polyester fabrics, and feathered hair of the '70s. Music director Nathaniel Beliveau and his seven-piece band achieve perfection in delivering a superb disco infused sound.

The stage adaptation of Saturday Night Fever is lacking in emotion, but it is nostalgic and full of high energy, with a score of over a dozen non-stop hit songs. ABT's spirited cast excel on the many disco-infused dance numbers in the show and the end result is a fun, energetic, crowd pleasing musical of a simple story of two individuals who are just hoping to make better lives for themselves.

Saturday Night Fever runs through August 20th, 2017, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.

Based on the film story by Nik Cohn
New adaptation by Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti
Featuring the song by The Bee Gees
Direction and Choreography: Stephen Casey
Music Direction: Nathaniel Beliveau
Set Design: Michaela Lynne Stein
Lighting Design: Karyn Lawrence
Costume Design: Morgan Andersen
Wig/Makeup Design: Amanda Gran
Sound Design: Wyatt Whitham
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast:
Tony: Jeremy Jason Sartin*
Stephanie: Melissa Rapelje*
Bobby C: Nick Anastasia*
Annette: Deanna Jelardi
Gus: Josh Cotham
Double J: Adam Willard
Joey Biltmore: Nick Pelaccio
Monty/Fusco: Anthony Martinez
Frank: Darren Friedman
Frank, Jr.: Mark Alpert
Pauline: Robyn Michele Frank
Candy: Katie Hart
Linda: Sarah Pansing
Flo: Gerri Weagraff
Ensemble: E J Dohring, Jacob Herrera, Jamari Williams, Jessica Dorcey, Kable Barnhart, Katie Hart, Lauren Morgan, Lynzee Foreman, Sarah Juliet Shaw, Trey DeGroodt

*Member, Actors' Equity Association


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