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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Saturday Night Fever Did Not Raise My Temperature

Also see Richard's recent review of Chess


I have to say one thing about Saturday Night Fever, now at the Orpheum - you won't fall a sleep at this show. The disco music is up to high and higher decimals. The walls of this old historic theater were shaking during some of the numbers. That said, the dancing is what saves this show from being a poor rip off of the John Travolta film.

The translation from screen to stage used only certain highlights of the film. Most of the subplots of the film are marginalized. One of the major subplots in the film was the case of the discarded friend who is forced to marry a girl pregnant with his child because both are Catholic. This was one of the cores of the movie and here it is an after thought. Even the famed bridge scene in the movie where the unfortunate man falls to his death is really just a minor part of the musical. The main essence of this musical is the manifold relationship budding between Brooklyn disco king Tony Manero and his new and older dance partner Stephanie Mangano.

The musical is brash and noisy as it tells the story of Tony whose dances nights at the 2001 Odyssey Club to escape his hum-drum job as a paint shop assistant. He ditches his ordinary dance partner for an older woman who dances "like a dream". The production ends on is a certain ray of hope as the new couple plan to escape to Manhattan for a "better life". However, just what Tony will do when he crosses the bridge is anyone's guess. The dramatic scenes are scrappily written, however, and the heavy elaboration of the dialogue draws fierce attention to its triteness.

The road show production had scaled down the cast of 43 to 27 and the sets are less monumental. It looks like a touring company. The company seems to be using a sound track since all of those voices cannot be coming from the small cast of singers on stage. This is certainly not a show for people who like intimate musicals. You will either be mad about the music of the Bee Gees or just mad at it.

The disco dancing led by Richard Blake, as Tony, is the best part of the musical. The musical starts for some unexplained reason with the key song "Staying Alive" and ends with a quiet song called "How Deep Is Your Love". Mr. Blake was handsomely muscular and he does some impressive athletic hoofing. He does manage the raw vulnerability of inarticulate youth. He possesses a dynamic voice but he did not bring the depths of the character that Travolta brought to the film.

Jeanine Meyers plays the older partner, Stephanie. She dances like a dream and she has a great voice. Outstanding was the strong performance of Aileen Quinn, as Annette. She belts her one solo "If I Can't Have You", a show stopping song. Ms. Quinn played the title role in the movie "Annie" and she still has a terrific, crystal clear and powerful voice.

There is a lot of crotch grabbing and finger pointing in the disco dance arrangements by director and choreographer Arlene Phillips. She took the best of disco and magnified it with unrestrained, energetic kicks, splits, twirls and ballet moves. There were even some wonderful salsa moves executed by the team of Natlie Willes and Michael Balderrama on the number "Salsation".

More and more musicals, it seems, are doing extra-prolonged curtain calls. Like Mama Mia and Copacabana, this production is no exception. After the cast took their bows they went into a 15 minute disco dance that was very entertaining; more entertaining then some of the scenes in the production. Only the most die hard disco and Bee Gees fans stayed while others went scurrying up the aisles of the theater. I stayed.

Saturday Night Fever is part of Best of Broadway season and it is playing at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St, San Francisco through May 6. Tickets are $35-$75. Call 415-512-7770 for tickets on visit Best of Broadway-SF.com.



Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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