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“Saturday Night Fever” will make you feel like dancing at Ivoryton Playhouse, CT

Saturday Night Fever” will make you feel like dancing at Ivoryton Playhouse, CT

Michael Notardonato and Caroline Lellouche as Tony and Stephanie in Ivoryton Playhouse’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

(Photos courtesy Jonathan Steele, Anne Hudson, Ivoryton Playhouse)

It’s disco fever time in Brooklyn 1979 at the Ivoryton Playhouse through September 3, as the terrific cast of Saturday Night Fever expertly dance and sing the legendary Bee Gees hits. All the rhythmic and melodic classics: “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “Jive Talking,” “You Should Be Dancing” and “How Deep is Your Love?” are excitingly performed by an ensemble of young performers who are skillfully choreographed and directed by Todd L. Underwood. (He has just been appointed the theater’s associate artistic director following a string of critical and box office successes at Ivoryton.)

Originally based on Nik Cohn’s factual 1975 New York Magazine article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” and the film, the stage adaptation by Robert Stigwood and Bill oaks premiered at the London Palladium in1998, and then at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre October 21, 1999, playing 501 regular performances.

Loosely following the 1977 blockbuster movie, starring John Travolta, this stage version stars the multi-talented dancer/singer /actor Michael Notardonato* as Tony Manero.  Stuck in a dead-end job, and hemmed in by a stifling family life, Tony’s one ambition is to become King of The Disco.  He meets Stephanie, a talented dancer in her own right, and after fits and starts they team up for the big dance competition being held at the 2001 Odyssey Night Club. The prize is $1000 and the couple plans on using the prize money to pursue a better life away from Brooklyn.  Stephanie is played by glorious fluid dancer Caroline Lellouche*, who was seen at Ivoryton in last year’s Chicago and is now beautifully cast as Tony’s love interest.  Both of these actors have appealing voices, and hit all the right notes with ease.

Each of the dance numbers in this production is a show-stopper.  The blended voices of the cast, coupled with their extraordinary dancing, is reason enough to rush out to buy a ticket or two or a block of ten.  When the ensemble opens the show with “Life Goin’ Nowhere-Stayin’ Alive” it is immediately evident that this is a cast of polished professional singer/dancer/actors.  Hearing Nora Fox* as Annette sing “If I Can’t Have You” and being mesmerized by the magnificent vocals of Ashley Jeudy* as she brings “Nights on Broadway” and “Night Fever” to life are two examples of the quality of the many musical gifts this show offers.

The four buddies of Tony Manero – Joey, Gus, Double J, and Bobby C. are played by Tom Di Feo, Joey Lucherini, Colin Lee* and Pierre Marais*.  These actors, under Mr. Underwood’s expert tutelage, bring a vibrant energy and stage presence to their being-alive characters. They dazzle their dancing and vocal prowess to perfection in the “Dog Eat Dog” number.

Conductor Michael Morris and the Ivoryton Playhouse musicians, although hidden under the stage, skillfully bring the Bee Gee’s music to life. The only discordant note is that, because of the way the book is written, many of the scenes in the disco have dialogue competing with the music. As a result, much of what is being said by the actors is lost among the sparkles of the disco ball tunes. In the original London production, all the dialogue and lyrics was clearly heard and understood. Some tweaking of the sound system which pits the words against the music might fix this problem.

This American reworking is vastly over-written, including the addition of a few unmemorable non-Bee Gee songs. As a result, it’s a long show with too many scenes – no fault of the creative people at Ivoryton – they have to abide by the licensing rights. Set designer Martin Scott Marchitto has been overly ambitious in building too-complicated versions of the Brooklyn Bridge and a strangely done interpretation of a mirrored dance studio. Many of these props could easily have been creatively simplified to avoid long stage waits. However, the designer’s major disco set, with its stage right and left balconies, works terrifically well.

Marcus Abbot’s lighting skillfully follows the action, and the colorful disco ball effects heighten the dance fever in the big production numbers.  Lisa Bebey’s costumes are fun – bell bottoms and funky outfits galore – and Tony’s outfits illustrate that he spends every penny of his salary at the paint store on the best sexy clothes he can buy.  Elizabeth Cippolina has gone overboard in the wig department, giving two of the male actors cringe-worthy ‘70’s long shaggy rat’s nest hairdos. But Monty the DJ’s Afro do is just right – big and fun and dramatic.  Monty is portrayed by Jamal Shuriah* and his mellifluous voice, blended with aforementioned Ashley Jeudy* in “Night Fever” and “More Than a Woman” is delicious to hear.

With all the talent onstage, it’s best to just endure the story which is an overwrought melodrama with too many unnecessary sub-plots and characters. You’ll want to see this show for the beautifully choreographed dancing and harmonious vocals of the brilliantly talented cast; and to watch Tony, Stephanie, and Annette in a spellbinding ballet. Enjoy the incredible hip action of Mr. Notardonato’s Tony in his big solo disco dance number; and the exciting Latin brilliance of Christian Alvarez as Cesar and Arianne Menezes as Maria as they give their all in competing for the big dance prize. Reason enough to see this ground-breaking disco musical. All that, and to hear and see the musical magic of the Bee Gees’ iconic songs interpreted with gusto.

At the curtain call, you’ll be able to answer the Barry, Maurice and Robin musical question “How Deep Is Your Love?”  Quite deep, you’ll undoubtedly agree, because of these Broadway-quality performers, musicians and director/choreaographer lovingly giving their all. (* denotes member of Actors Equity Association)

Saturday Night Fever runs through September 3rd, 2017. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Additional matinee performances on Saturday, August 19th at 2pm and September 2nd at 2pm.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. These tickets are in great demand. Call the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at  www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

(Be sure to visit www.criticsontheaisle.org and scroll down the page for additional timely theater reviews)

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