When life is going nowhere, dance it out. That’s the gist of “Saturday Night Fever,” the latest musical to open at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Based on the 1977 hit film, “Saturday Night Fever” the musical follows Brooklyn teenager Tony Manero, who escapes his dead-end job at a paint store by spending weekends at the 2001 Odyssey disco. It’s the role that launched John Travolta to stardom and made white suits a style icon of that generation.
Drury Lane’s production celebrates the nostalgia with an updated script by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti. An outstanding cast of singers and dancers execute beloved Bee Gees standards with high energy and fierce movement. It all happens beneath a giant glittery disco ball.
The love triangle is deftly played by Adrian Aguilar as Tony and Erica Stephan as Stephanie Mangano. Tony, with his practiced “Brooklyn strut” pursues Stephanie, who has bigger plans for herself in Manhattan.
Landree Fleming as Annette is a former girlfriend obsessed with Tony. When rejected once again, she delivers a wistful and soulful “If I Can’t Have You.” Stephan’s vocals prove equally powerful with her solo “What Kind of Fool Am I?”
Alex Newell demos powerful range as club singer Candy, a chanteuse in a floor-length gold lame gown. Singer-actor Newell is best known for playing transgender student on Fox musical series “Glee,” but commands the stage lights as well.
The dancers show off their athleticism with lots of lifts and kicks. The Act Two opening dance number—a pas-de-trois with Aguilar, Stephan and Fleming—is balletic and sensual. The fast-paced Latin routine by Adrienne Storrs and Martin Ortiz Tapia is a delight to watch.
Wrapping around the storyline are big glitzy song-and-dance numbers like “Stayin’ Alive,” “Jive Talkin’,” Night Fever” and “Burn Baby Burn.”
Aside from the fun and warm feelings for a bygone era, the storyline has several dark moments as well. An unwed pregnancy, gang fights, a sudden death. But these incidents are almost unsettlingly glossed over as the players move on to the upcoming dance contest.
“Saturday Night Fever” is directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Dan Knechtges with musical direction by Roberta Duchak. The Drury Lane Orchestra is conducted by Chris Sargent, who also plays keyboard.
DETAILS: “Saturday Night Fever” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through March 19. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.
Reviewed by Pamela Dittmer McKuen
(Guest reviewer Pamela Dittmer McKuen is an independent journalist and author who specializes in home, architecture, fashion and travel. Her bylines have appeared in the Chicago Tribune plus dozens of consumer, trade, association, corporate and collegiate publications. Visit her travel blog at: all the write places.)