Theatre Reviews
Photo by John Lamb, courtesy of Stray Dog Theatre

Written by Steve Callahan

The Stray Dog Theatre has opened an impressive production of "Saturday Night Fever" at the Tower Grove Abbey. It’s a daring venture for a small company to take on a show that is so overflowing with such energetic dance, but director Justin Been and choreographer Michael Hodges have put together a beautiful, tight production.

The show is, of course, a stage adaptation of the 1977 movie that made John Travolta a big star and stoked the already-surging disco trend. The Bee Gees’ soundtrack of that movie, was, at the time, the best-selling album in history.

Now Travolta did a beautiful job in that film. He was the most honest and vulnerable that he’s ever been. And he was a superb, precise, athletic dancer. But the movie is a real downer. The stage version closely mirrors the movie.

The story is set in working-class Brooklyn. Young Tony and his friends have absolutely nothing in their future. They still live with their families. They work (if they work at all) in dead-end jobs. Their one escape is to the flashing floors and glittering globes of the Disco, where they drink, and dope, and dance! Dressed to the nines, with stacked heels and bling and carefully coiffed hair, they prance and preen and parade on the dance-floor to that relentless “four-on-the-floor” beat. What are their hopes? Perhaps nothing but just to get laid—and/or high—and maybe have a minute of fame as a dancer.

Drew Mizell leads the cast in the role of Tony. He’s a fine actor and a helluva dancer. Tony is the god of the disco floor. All the women make blatant passes at him. There are two main girls in Tony’s life:

  • Annette, his needy sometime-girl-friend, is desperate to be more than just a dancing partner to him. She’s beautifully played by Lindsey Grojean, whose tangle of curls and large, wide-set eyes accent this poor girl’s vulnerability—and are reminiscent of Bernadette Peters.
  • Stephanie is a newcomer to the club. She has a job in a Manhattan talent agency, so she’s always rubbing shoulders with the greats of show business (and she doesn’t mind dropping a few names). Sara Rae Womack gives the role just the right touch of classy aloofness—and just the right touch of a not-quite-conquered Brooklyn accent. Ms. Womack makes some really demanding dancing look easy.

The leads are supported by a very strong cast. Justin Bouckaert, Michael Cox, Jason Heil, and Sean Seifert play Tony’s boisterous, testosterone-driven buddies. Ella Drake, Kayla Dressman, and Maggie Nold (all fine dancers) play other girls at the club. Chris Moore and Jade Anaiis Hillary reign as major figures at the disco.

Matt Anderson makes a nice, angry Italian father (with lovely comic touches). Kay Love as the angry and grieving mother, and Sean Seifert as Tony’s brother (no longer a priest) are deeply convincing. Nadja Kapetanovich gives nice dimension to the almost silent role of Tony’s younger sister.

(Anderson, Seifert, and Ms. Love also play other, smaller roles. This is, to me, a false economy. Having such distinctive stage presences appear as other people tempts us to disbelieve.)

Set designer Josh Smith does wonders on the small stage. (Well, ya gotta have the Verrazzano Bridge, for gosh sake!) Costumer Colleen Michelson makes the show convincingly ‘70’s and glitzy and sexy. Tyler Duenow, as usual, gives us excellent lighting.

And WOW! The Band! Music Director Leah Schultz leads the very best stage orchestra I’ve seen with a small company in many years. Really superb!

Fine voices abound, but they were seriously overamplified. Acoustics there are a little hard, and early in the show I found that I could understand the lyrics far better if I put fingers lightly in my ears.

So it’s a good production of a curiously mixed show. Lots of great music and exciting dance, often sexy, a bit of violence, some tragedy, hints of romance. But the book leaves us without too much hope for Tony—even after he’s “got the girl”—for she too is still desperately hoping to escape.

Stray Dog’s "Saturday Night Fever" plays at the Tower Grove Abbey through October 28, 2023.

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