Theatre Review

Disco lives in TBTS's 'Saturday Night Fever'

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Disco, and the music and dance of the late ’70s, is still alive in Rhode Island.

I understand that the 40-year-old musical is virtually sold out for its first three weeks, as people head south to Matunuck for their favorite Bee Gees songs and teenage idol Tony Manero. Schyler Conaway plays the cocky Brooklyn dancer who struts his way across the stage, wowing the ladies on stage (and in the audience) with his physique and charm. Tony comes from a traditional Italian-American family, headed by his out-of-work, opinionated father (Cranston’s own Gary Lynch).

“Saturday Night Live” has a difficult time trying to decide whether it is a reflection of the times or a parody. The scenes at the family supper table had some members of the audience chuckling.

It all comes down to the big dance contest. Tony has rejected his original dance partner, who clings to him even when they are not dancing, for a newcomer to the disco scene (Melisa Rapelje). You can see where this one’s going, but along the way there’s lots of singing and dancing – some good, some not as good.

“Saturday Night Fever” uses the songs of the Bee Gees to move the story along, like “Mama Mia” uses the ABBA songbook. The big difference is that the “Mama Mia” music sounds like ABBA is singing it. Solos and ensemble interpretations of the Bee Gees just don’t do it.

There were a few minor problems with transitions on opening night, which will certainly be corrected by director Richard Sabellico by the time you see it. (Conaway handled the open fly predicament very discreetly).

The musical is definitely dated, as it should be, but unfortunately, many of the one-liners fell flat. Also, the references to Puerto Ricans and rumbles worked in “West Side Story,” but are not needed in this musical.

Regardless of the problems with the book, “Saturday Night Fever” is filled with an energetic young cast that brings us back to the music and dancing of the era, which many of us remember and can relate to.

At Theatre-by-the-Sea through September 8. Call 782-TKTS for reservations.

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