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Review: This 'Saturday Night Fever' is no disco ball

Correspondent

Update: Stage Door Theatre will reopen Friday, Sept. 15 with the 8 p.m. performance of "Saturday Night Fever."

“Saturday Night Fever” the movie was a little slice of escapist cinematic heaven: a skinny young John Travolta in a white three-piece suit, the Bee Gees’ driving falsetto vocals and all that dancin’, yeah.

“Saturday Night Fever” the musical is something else: Yes, the flashy dancing and disco-era songs remain, but the script has been rewritten and tweaked and altered through various versions of the show so that what remains is a series of strung-together clichés. Seldom will you wish so fervently that the characters would just keep singing and dancing, already, and skip the dialogue entirely.

Stage Door Theatre in Margate opened its production of “Fever” just before Hurricane Irma hit, and despite the best efforts of director Kevin Black and the performers, the show suffers the same fate as a character who accidentally plunges from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Hint: The outcome isn’t good.

Like the 1977 movie hit, “Saturday Night Fever” looks at the life of Tony Manero (Daniel Velasquez), a 19-year-old hardware store employee from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. As the lyrics of “Stayin’ Alive” reveal, Tony is “goin’ nowhere” but aspires to more. His out-of-work dad, Frank Sr. (Ben Prayz), specializes in putting Tony down, while his deeply religious mom, Flo (Elissa Solomon), reveres her eldest son, Frank Jr. (Christopher Rodriguez), for becoming a priest.

On Saturday nights, though, Tony transforms into someone else. Donning bell-bottoms and a shiny shirt, he becomes a dancing king at the local disco, 2001 Odyssey. His swagger and skill attract the women there, particularly his sometime dancing partner and would-be girlfriend Annette (Sandi Stock).

The two plan to enter the club’s dance contest and start to rehearse, but then Tony spots lithe Stephanie Mangano (Alexandra Milbrath), and as far as he’s concerned his partnership with Annette is history. Though Stephanie seems to be a snooty striver, Tony senses the neighborhood girl underneath, and romance follows

Credited with the book of this version, writers Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti (the latter also contributed some songs, arrangements and orchestrations) don’t manage to make the audience care about much of anyone. The exception involves the clichéd subplot of Tony’s pal Bobby C (Bruno Faria) getting his girlfriend, Pauline (Kelly Ziegler), pregnant, then agonizing over what to do about it. Faria, a charismatic leading man who nails Danny Durr’s disco choreography and sings like a dream, makes the audience buy into Bobby C’s dilemma. But the glancing, ludicrously brief treatment of his fate becomes laughable.

So what’s worthwhile in Stage Door’s “Saturday Night Fever?”

The voices, for one, as showcased by musical director Michael Friedman. As Candy, Kat Gold is a disco diva, belting out “Disco Inferno,” “Night Fever,” “Nights on Broadway” and more. Sandi Stock’s Annette delivers an aching “If I Can’t Have You,” and Velasquez and Milbrath turn up the heat on “How Deep Is Your Love.” Along with the ensemble, Faria, Sean Davis’ Joey, Sean Dorazio’s Double J and Steddy Amory’s Gus turn the sound and tricky choreography of “Jive Talkin’” into a highlight of the production.

Velasquez, a handsome actor who sings and moves very well, simply can’t overcome that leaden book to make Tony’s journey even mildly interesting. His put-on thick Brooklyn accent, Tony’s combination of narcissism and insecurity, and the character’s instantaneous emotional “growth” at the end of the show are all roadblocks to the character’s appeal and credibility.

Sean McClelland’s deep-blue set, with its disco ball motif, is not at all appealing to look at for more than two hours (even lighting designer Ardean Landhuis has a tough time lifting the gloom), and several times at a recent matinee, the set’s sliding panels got stuck. Costume designer Jerry Sturdefant provides the disco duds for the company, including Gold’s flashy performance outfits.

To be fair, Stage Door’s audience digs hearing young performers with good voices sing those disco-era hits. But sitting through the dialogue is the opposite of groovy.

“Saturday Night Fever” runs through Oct. 15 at the Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, in Margate. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday. Call 954-344-7765 or go to StageDoorFl.org.

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