Encountering cultural leaders of the past with fresh eyes often reveals pitfalls that we have not noticed or forgotten. Tastes change, styles don’t last, and what seems fresh and insightful in the moment can now feel old and frustrating.
The live musical adaptation of Saturday Night Fever, the iconic late ’70s disco movie musical featuring unforgettable songs by The Bee Gees, which premiered this weekend at the Laguna Playhouse, clearly doesn’t live up to the memory challenge.
Saddled with a tiresome book and three additional songs not taken from the original film, the production’s uneven pace takes its toll over a long 2 ½ hours. The energy generated by remarkable performances or swinging dance moments is slowed to a crawl by lengthy scene changes with blackout.
And while the signature white suit makes an appearance, there’s no illuminating staging, let alone a dance floor, to show off the moves.
However, there are some things to like about the display.
Casting a Tony Manero — color messenger by day, dance floor by night — seems like an impossibility given John Travolta’s perennially long shadow, but for a non-equity vehicle, casting Dorian Quinn feels like something within reach coup approaching.
Since dancing is all Tony needs to stay alive in the cul-de-sacs of 1977 Brooklyn, everyone needs Tony chops and Quinn is not only comfortable with the dance requirements, but uses his large stature as an advantage, making the operations frequent eclipses , in this case a very good thing.
Visually, it reminds a little more of a fit Elvis – which is never wrong – than a Travolta. The audience’s murmurs of approval at the beginning of the play, when the actor shows more skin than costume, certainly shows that Manero’s inherent sex appeal has been ticked.
As his dance partner, Natalie Kastner’s aspiring Stephanie – looking for the better life across the bridge in Manhattan – is a suitable battle and dance partner for Tony. In particular, her suburban accent was brilliantly present, underscoring the actresses’ ability to push back and purposefully establish her character’s independent identity.
Singing is not always a strong point in this troupe. Vocally, Dwan Hayes dominates as the waitress and occasional co-host in 2001’s Odyssey, the nightclub where the most memorable scenes take place. Hayes’ biography features a number of strong singing roles, and she highlights key numbers – accompanied by more miss than hit recordings of instrumental tracks – such as “Disco Inferno”, “Nights of Broadway” and “More Than a Woman”.
Some of the breaks on this show are absolutely puzzling. Tony’s brother, who has renounced the priesthood, and his sister are virtually non-entities in this production, and the bitter labor of Tony’s struggling Italian-American family is time-consuming and ineffective.
Most confusing is the lack of an exact number of deaths towards the end of the show. Flashlight with high beam intentionally hides from the audience whether it is one or two people falling off a bridge. Subsequently, there is only one monument to one male character, while the other, the hapless Annette (Daniella Castoria), who was prominently rebuffed by Tony in a prominent subplot arc, disappears from the rest of the show without further mention.
At least a few scenes stick to one in a good way. Perhaps the most indelible stage work is the opening dance scene in Act II, choreographed by Karen Babcock Brassea, who also directs the show.
With an elegiac vocal reading by Hayes, this slowed-down version of “Nights of Broadway” is stylized into a balletic ensemble piece, and for a moment or two the show captivates and captivates us with something verging on theatrical magic.
A little more magic would be desirable.
‘Saturday Night Fever’
Valuation: 2 ½ stars
Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd, Laguna Beach
When: Until Sunday, July 17; 7:30pm Wednesday to Friday, 2pm and 7:30pm Saturday; 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Sundays. Additional performances 7:30pm Tuesday 5th July and 2pm Thursday 14th July. No performance at 7:30pm Wednesday 13 July.
Information: 949-497-2787; lagunaplayhouse.com
COVID-19 Protocols: The Laguna Playhouse no longer requires vaccine or test checks to attend performances. Masking is optional at the discretion of the participant. This policy is subject to change without notice and may not apply to every performance.