|In 1976, entertainment reporter Nik Cohn wrote an article for New York Magazine titled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.” This article told the story of the young people of Brooklyn in the 70s who spent their weeks working or going to school, but enjoyed the glory of Saturday nights in local discotheques like 2001 Odyssey. Getting ready was a ritual, from blow drying hair to zipping up the platform shoes. The bars were crowded, with lines around the block. The dance floors were a sea of booze and good looking people who left all of their worries at home for the night.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because Cohn’s article was the inspiration behind 1977’s legendary movie “Saturday Night Fever.” Actor John Travolta was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his depiction of Tony Manero. This film was an enormous commercial success, and it has even been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and is preserved by the National Film Registry. The soundtrack, featuring multiple songs by disco trio The Bee Gees, is one of the highest-selling film soundtracks of all time. It was also one of the first instances of cross-media marketing, selling both the film and the soundtrack to consumers. Since the movie and soundtrack so greatly captured New York nightlife in the 70s, it has been adapted to the stage in “Saturday Night Fever: The Musical.”
Tribal rites of the production of ’Saturday Night Fever’
“Saturday Night Fever” opened in May 1998 at the London Palladium, with Adam Garcia taking on the role of Tony. There have been productions all over the world since then, including on Broadway and in Argentina, the Netherlands, Mexico, Spain, South Korea and even aboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Even though the film described the plight of the young people in 70s Brooklyn, it has a place in the hearts of theater lovers all over the world.
“Saturday Night Fever” tells the story of Tony, a young Italian American who spends his days working a dead-end job at a paint store and messing around with his similarly unmotivated friends. When he comes home in the evening, he has a tense relationship with his parents who bicker with each other while simultaneously comparing Tony with his seemingly more successful older brother, who’s become a priest. Tony spends his Saturday nights with his friends at 2001 Odyssey, the hottest disco club in the city. While he’s seen as a deadbeat by his family, his skills on the dance floor make him the desire of everyone in the club: Men want to be him and women want to dance with him. When Tony notices a new girl at the club, Stephanie Mangano, a beauty who dances with grace, he becomes obsessed with her. Though she turns down his romantic advances, she eventually agrees to partner with Tony for 2001 Odyssey’s dance competition.
“Saturday Night Fever” is known for wrapping fun dance scenes and some funny dialogue into a film with some much darker elements such as racial tension, nonchalant drug use and promiscuity. However, creators of “Saturday Night Fever” cut some of the bleaker parts of the plot in order to make the stage production more family-oriented.
Though the soundtrack is vital to the movie, “Saturday Night Fever” is not a musical. On the other hand, “Saturday Night Fever” incorporates the lyrics of the hit Bee Gees songs into the plot of the show. Everyone is familiar with the opening credits, featuring Travolta strutting down the street with a paint can to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” though not everyone thinks of the lyrics. Lines like, “Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me,” and “Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’, and we’re stayin’ alive” touch on some of the show’s themes, and the song returns a couple more times throughout the show.
In the film, Bobby tells Tony - and just about everyone else in the film - about his inner turmoil regarding the fact that he’s gotten his devoutly Catholic girlfriend pregnant, though she is never shown onscreen. Not only is she a character in the stage production, but the she and Bobby sing a duet to “How Deep Is Your Love?”, the Bee Gees track used in the film during Tony and Stephanie’s dance contest routine. To complement the original soundtrack, songwriter David Abbinanti wrote three new songs to be featured in the stage production, including the one that Tony and Stephanie perform to in the dance contest.
“Saturday Night Fever: The Musical” is fun and light-hearted. It takes on the 70s without being campy and is a great way to enjoy some good old-fashioned disco onstage.