Review: Moonlight’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’ is long on dancing, but short on story
Moonlight Stage Productions is presenting the San Diego premiere of the 1998 musical which was inspired by the 1977 John Travolta dance drama film
It’s been 46 years since John Travolta strutted down the streets of Brooklyn in the edgy 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever.” On Sept. 13, the 1998 jukebox musical inspired by the film finally made its San Diego premiere at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
“Saturday Night Fever, the Musical,” directed and choreographed by John Vaughan, faithfully re-creates the movie’s eye-popping and highly athletic disco dance scenes, as well as all the classic ‘70s songs by the Bee Gees and others, memorable costumes and famous one-liners.
But the show’s book, revised for its North American tour in 2017 by David Abbinanti and Sean Cercone, has almost none of the darkness, conflict and human drama of the film. As a result, it’s a nostalgic, feel-good song-and-dance show without much happening in between the well-crafted dance numbers. And while the two principal female characters in the show have been softened and given their own songs, they’re still creatures of their time — desperate for male attention or labeled a “bitch” if they’re not.
Brandon Keith Rogers makes his Moonlight debut as Tony Manero, the Italian American paint store clerk who lives for his weekend visits to the discoteque, where he’s king of the dance floor. Rogers not only flawlessly pulls off all of the dance moves made famous in the film, he also has a nice singing voice and good stage presence.
Allison Spratt Pearce, last seen at Moonlight in “Victor/Victoria,” returns as Stephanie, the talented dancer with big-city dreams who initially resists Tony’s charms when he asks her to be his partner in a dance contest. Spratt Pearce is a graceful dancer and excellent song interpreter, though the easy-listening pop songs like “How Deep is Your Love” don’t offer her the chance to show off her singing chops.
Jenna Lee Rosen, who played Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” at the Moonlight in 2021, is a standout as Annette, Tony’s former dance partner who threatens to sleep around if he won’t date her. In the movie, the distraught and inebriated Annette gets gang-raped by Tony’s friends. In the musical, her fate is left unresolved, but Rosen does get to deliver the show’s best vocal performance with “If I Can’t Have You.”
The score features songs from the “Saturday Night Fever” movie soundtrack and a handful of original songs that allow the characters to sing about their inner lives. The best is Tony’s “Top of Your Game,” but the quintet “Dog-Eat-Dog,” sung by Tony and his buddies (played by Jake Bradford, Xavier Bush, Ryan Perry Marks and Fisher Kaake) is forgettable.
Music director and conductor Elan McMahan leads the synthesizer-enhanced orchestra, lighting was designed by Jennifer Edwards, sound by Jim Zadai, with rented costumes and sets.
“Saturday Night Fever, the Musical” runs a little over two hours with intermission (though it’s hard to know for sure since an errant backstage fire alarm briefly interrupted the second act on Wednesday). The show concludes with a “Mamma Mia”-style disco mix and the enthusiastic audience leapt to their feet, pointing their index fingers high in the air Travolta-style.
For those audience members coming for the music and dancing, there’s plenty to enjoy, but there’s not a lot to the story beyond the dance floor.
‘Saturday Night Fever, The Musical’
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Through Sept. 30.
Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Terrace Park, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista
Phone: (760) 724-2110
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