Those going to see the musical Saturday Night Fever expecting a replica of the John Travolta movie will have to adjust their tempo and their thinking.
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It's worth the effort. The show, playing through April 2 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson, is a pleasure from start to finish, with terrific singers, good acting and dance numbers that burn up the floor.
The story is the same as the movie: Brooklyn paint store clerk Tony Manero (a wonderful Aaron Atkinson) relieves the boredom of his bleak existence living in his childhood bedroom and hanging out with his immature, sexist, trash-talking buddies by being the star dancer at the local disco hall, the 2001 Club.
But the musical is pure stage show: Instead of the Bee Gees in the background, the characters sing the songs, turning many of the movie's hard-pounding, fast-paced numbers into heart-rending ballads or wailing blues. One poignant moment comes when Tony's discarded dance partner, Annette (a darling Brittany Ambler), realizes she's been dumped and slowly mourns If I Can't Have You (I Don't Want Nobody Baby). And it's nearly heart-stopping when Candy (a fantastic Maria Norris) belts a slow Nights on Broadway with a wailing saxophone in the background, or as Tony sings Tragedy as a funeral dirge.
Director Michael La Fleur gets the show off to a good pace to choreographer Daria Lynne Melendez's rocking Stayin' Alive, with costume coordinator Pat Werner's bell bottoms, nylon knit shirts, jumpsuits, psychedelic colors and clunky heels setting the time as the disco-driven 1970s.
Twenty-one of the 24-member cast light up the stage to Disco Inferno, with Norris's strong voice driving the beat, and Atkinson's Tony earns cheers with a hip-swiveling, pelvis-thrusting, hand-jiving You Should Be Dancing. His performance is even more impressive when you learn that he took on the role late in the game when the original actor was taken ill and hospitalized, according to director La Fleur.
The show is blessed with several good singers — Heather Baird as Stephanie Mangano (What Kind of Fool), Tony's supposedly sophisticated new dance partner; Shannon Draper as sweet, trusting Pauline and Kevin Korczynski as her boyfriend, Bobby C, crooning How Deep Is Your Love; or Tony's buddies, Joey (Matty Colonna), Double J (Trey Getz), Gus (Jake Rura) and Bobby C doing Boogie Shoes.
Jay R. Goldberg is a barrel of fun as Monty, the DJ, in his tight-fitting jumpsuit, oozing with charm. And Austin Price is touching as Frank Jr., Tony's older brother, the priest, who disappoints their parents, but inspires Tony to bigger and better things.
The show seethes with racism, with Tony's dad, Frank Sr. (Pete Clapsis), shouting about "wetbacks" taking his construction job, Tony's pals making an unprovoked attack on a passing Latino simply because they can, and the DJ rigging a dance contest against the obviously best dancers, who happen to be Puerto Rican. There's also an undercurrent of sexuality, the guys' "use 'em and lose 'em" attitude permeating their attitude toward women.
Still, the show is satisfying, as Tony grows from shallow, self-centered indifference to a man facing the realities of the world and how he can make his place in it.
Interestingly, the most glaring flaw on opening night was the rude behavior of several patrons, who literally knocked people aside as they rushed for the parking lot during the finale and bows. They missed one of the best numbers of the show, a high-energy song and dance to a medley of the show's best numbers, as well as the opportunity to give the cast and crew the applause they roundly deserved.
What's the rush?
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