While not landmark piece of musical theatre, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER delivers a few hours of escapist fun and a slew of 1970's disco tunes that will likely take some audience members back to their days in bell bottoms, platform shoes, and hustling the night away.
Riverside Center for the Performing Arts continues to raise its production game, this time mostly in casting a dynamic cast of triple threats putting their stamp on the stage musical adaptation of the 1977 movie which helped solidify young John Travolta's heartthrob status. At Riverside, the Travolta role of disco-king Tony Manero is taken by Michael Notardonato who has the looks, moves and charms to carry the show handily. Unlike Travolta in the dramatic film which featured dancing to a Bee Gees soundtrack, Notardonato has to sing for his supper, as well as emote and dance the night away. No worries here - Riverside's Tony has strong and expressive pipes and delivers his five numbers stylishly. He truly embodies the restlessness of the 19-year old stuck in a dead end job, frustrated at how his parents treat him, and who lives for those Saturday night's at the 2001 Odyssey, the Brooklyn discotheque that serves as his weekly kingdom.
Notardonato also shares an easy chemistry with Melissa Rapelje as Stephanie Mangano, his new dance partner. Rapelje is also a gifted and nimble dancer and together with Notardonato they tear up the dance floor every time they take the stage. Playing Stephanie with a tough exterior hiding insecurity works well. As good as her dancing and acting are, Rapelje soars in her handful of solo singing moments, such as "What Kind of Fool," one of the 10 Bee Gees hit songs used throughout the show.
The plot is of course borrowed from the original 1977 movie and provides a fairly logical arc for the story of young Tony and his friends coping with life on the streets during the summer of the Son-of-Sam murders, racial tensions, and more girls than they can shake a stick at. As Tony's quartet of neighborhood pals Richie Barrella, Gavin Rohrer, Ethan Henry, and T. J. Newton make for fun-loving Italian stallions, cutting up and taking charge. Special mention must go to Rohrer, as Bobby, Tony's closest and most troubled friend. Rohrer has to show both the cocky side of his character and the turmoil of a young man feeling trapped by his former girlfriend's unexpected pregnancy, which he does with truth and pathos. (And kudos to Rohrer for the huge departure from his scene-stealing turn as Jerry Lee Lewis in Riverside's recent MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET.)
As the other women in the lives of Tony and his friends, Taylor Short makes a strong impression as Annette, Tony's wannabe girlfriend and dance partner. As Bobby's baby-mama Pauline, Alyssa Bornschein handles the role of a jilted and wounded lover skillfully.
Director and choreographer Patti D'Beck brings her A-game to staging this production and keeps the leads and ensemble strutting and hustling up a storm with signature dance moves we remember from "Dance Fever" and other sources from the period. The disco dancing looks even more glittery in the period attire by costume designer Angela Cartensen. Audience members: be sure to watch for the special entrance of Tony's iconic white suit - a clever and eye-catching moment in the show.
Adam Koch's impressionistic set design offers a fitting world that easily moves from the streets of Brooklyn, the Verrazano Bridge, and discotheque with cinematic timing. The lighting design by Joe Thompson effortlessly assists the staging and scene setting, complete with multiple disco balls which turn the entire theatre into a boogie palace.
With strong leading performances, a strong emphasis on disco moves, and 20-plus songs from The Bee Gees and other tunes from the era, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER provides some escapist fun for a few hours. Riverside Center's production opened March 15 and continues through May 7, 2017.
Follow Jeff Walker on Twitter - @jeffwalker66
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER - The Musical, based on the 1977 film
Directed and choreographed by Patti D'Beck
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes - 1 intermission.
For more information or tickets, click HERE
Riverside Center - 95 Riverside Parkway - Fredericksburg, VA 22406
Photo Credit: Riverside Center