Chicago Theatre Review
Saturday Night Fever – Drury Lane Oakbrook
If you’re of a certain age, you might remember sitting in a movie theater back in 1977 and being dazzled by John Travolta’s dance moves in this iconic film. Most theatergoers only knew him as the wise-cracking Vinnie Barbarino from the TV show, “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and they were surprised by the young actor’s choreographic talents. This film not only made disco a household word, it proved that Travolta had all the right moves. He eventually went on to star in several other movie musicals. His portrayal of Brooklyn teenager, Tony Manero is, still to this day, a classic. But Drury Lane has brought a new and even more exciting Tony Manero to the Chicago stage, and he’s a local talent, to boot.
Adrian Aguilar has worked practically everywhere in Chicago over the past eight years however, in the role of Tony Manero, he’s found a part that perfectly matches his many talents. Aguilar has been seen at Chicago Shakespeare, Marriott’s Lincolnshire, Paramount, American Theater Company and Porchlight Music Theatre, to name a few, but in this starring role at Drury Lane the talented young triple threat really leaves his mark. Mr. Aguilar returns to Chicago, after having been an ensemble member and understudy for the title role in the Broadway musical, “Rocky,” based upon the Sylvester Stallone film. Hopefully this starring role will mark a new beginning for this exceptional actor.
From Adrian’s first entrance, “Staying Alive,” it’s easy for audiences to see that this guy’s having the time of his life playing this iconic role. The handsome Mr. Aguilar acts, sings and dances up a storm, making this portrayal of Tony Manero uniquely his own. His expertly executed Brooklyn strut, his athletic dance moves and his great singing range are surpassed only by his charisma and winning smile. It’s easy to see why all the ladies in this musical are attracted to him.
Landree Fleming, an absolute knockout in recent Chicago productions of “Xanadu” and “Seussical, the Musical,” is honest and heartbreaking as Tony’s wannabe girlfriend, Annette. Portraying the lonely young girl, whose one dream is to become Tony’s main squeeze, Landree’s Annette has to fight to be Tony’s partner in the dance contest. She soon realizes that someone else has taken her place. When things don’t work out as she had hoped, her sorrow is beautifully expressed musically in Ms. Fleming’s heartfelt, “If I Can’t Have You (I Don’t Want Nobody, Baby).”
Stephanie, the sophisticated girl who catches Tony Manero’s eye and dazzles him with her dancing skill and beauty, is played by the wonderful Erica Stephan. Seen recently in Drury Lane’s production of “Crazy for You” and “White Christmas,” Ms. Stephan beguiles with a coquettish charm and subtle sex appeal. She’s a true match for Aguilar as she toys with his affections and challenges his earnestness. She easily takes the stage while dancing and singing her heart out in every number. Ms. Stephan’s Stephanie is always playing hard to get, but that’s what seems to entice Tony. She’s not a needy, lovesick kid, like Annette. This is one hard-edged babe who’s loaded with attitude, loves to drop names and seems more concerned with finding her way out of Brooklyn and into the chic, sophisticated world of Manhattan than in finding true love. The climactic dance contest, which pairs Aguilar and Stephan together, is sheer poetry in motion.
Staged at Drury Lane by Broadway director and choreographer Dan Knechtges (“Lysistrata Jones,” “Xanadu”), his vision for this musical plays much better than the earlier, original stage version. Adapted for the theatre by Robert Stigwood, in collaboration with Bill Oaks, this is one of the first jukebox musicals, which features all the Bee Gees’ songs that comprised the original film soundtrack. But even this North American version, written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, still feels a little choppy and lacks the cohesive flow of musicals written expressly for the stage.
However, Knechtges has tried to smooth out the bumps by setting his production entirely in the disco dance hall, allowing the ensemble to linger in the background, watching the story unfold. Scenes taking place in the Manero kitchen or Tony’s bedroom, as well as those in a local dance studio or the paint shop where Manero works, are presented with the cast serving as omniscient observers. But, when the musical returns to the disco club, with its flashing lights, spinning mirror ball and atmospheric fog, the ensemble erupts with passion, dancing Knechtges’ choreography with wild abandon and sharp precision.
As the story begins, it’s musically narrated and continually commented upon musically by Candy, the disco queen. She opens the show by rising out of the orchestra pit. Candy’s played with ardent artistry by transgender performer Alex Newell, the talented young musical actor who rose to fame playing Wade “Unique” Adams on TV’s “Glee.” Tony’s gang of immature buddies are nicely played by Joe Capstick, Brandon Springman, Will Lidke and, in an especially touching performance, Nick Cosgrove, as the insecure Bobby C. Marya Grandy and Bret Tuomi skillfully capture Tony’s blue collar, Catholic, Italian-American parents, with Skyler Adams turning in a strong performance as Frank, Jr., Tony’s brother.
Kevin Depinet’s gorgeous two-level scenic design is massive, all-encompassing and filled with detail, representing the fictitious 2001 Odyssey Disco Dance Club from the movie. The whole stage is lit by Ryan O’Gara, with specially chosen, colorfully mobile instruments. Rachel Laritz and Penny Lane Studios have contributed the 70’s look with their period perfect costumes, wigs and hair designs.
While this musical may not be on most theatre audience’s top ten list, Dan Knechtges has directed and choreographed his topnotch cast with care, precision and love. It’s a lot of fun, with a sincere message about living one’s life without kowtowing to any one else’s expectations. It features a cast of extremely talented singing-and-dancing actors to enjoy, a score of familiar songs by the Bee Gees to stir up fond memories and plenty of bright lights and high octane energy to keep audiences dancing in their seats. With hit tunes like “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Night Fever,” “More Than a Woman,” “Boogie Shoes” and “Jive Talkin,’” Oakbrook Terrace has turned the winter into a hot and fiercely dynamic “Disco Inferno.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 26-March 19 by Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 630-530-0111 or by going to www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.