Saturday Night Fever

| November 1, 2016

Saturday Night Fever

Westchester Broadway Theater, Elmsford, NY, October 27, 2016
Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes

Alexandra Matteo and Jacob Tischler
Photo: John Vecchiolla

For its 198th production, the Westchester Broadway dinner theater is offering Saturday Night Fever (directed/choreographed by Richard Stafford). It’s a good production, with some good performances and some fun moments, of a not-very-good musical. I’m glad I went. For me, there were enough rewards. But don’t expect great theater.  It’s lightweight, escapist fare. The script (by Sean Cercone, David Abbinanti, Robert Stigwood, Bill Oaks, based on the Paramount motion picture and Nik Cohn’s original New York Magazine article) has an awkward, uneven, cobbled-together feel. The show proceeds by fits and starts, and songs sometimes feel like they’ve been shoehorned into place.  

But I sure enjoyed several fine performances, the big, high-spirited dance numbers, and some memorable Bee Gees songs, like “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love.”  (There are also, alas, some not-so-memorable songs that feel like filler.) The leads, Jacob Tischler and Alexandra Matteo—both new to me—rang true and carried the story well. They’re well cast. They look and sound like they grew up in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge. And Tischler’s impressive dancing sure worked. Matteo was just perfect as the girl from the old neighborhood with aspirations for something better in life. 
I got a particularly great kick out of seeing veteran Ray DeMattis—a character actor I always love—make the most of his brief scenes as the protagonist’s father. He was the most interesting performer on the stage and his moments felt real. He could pause, or repeat a word, and hold you, playing an out-of-work blue-collar guy putting down his son to mask his own insecurities. And it was fun seeing Chris Hlinka—who’d impressed me in his New York stage debut in Most Likely To: The Senior Superlative Musical—as one of the protagonist’s buddies. I enjoyed his dancing, too. 
Oh! I wish the script of this musical were better. The tone is inconsistent; at one moment the show seems to be aiming for social realism, the next moment it’s trying to razzle-dazzle us with glitz. And the writers don’t know how to build up to the death scene properly to make us care about it; the death, when it comes, feels melodramatic rather than moving.
It’s not a great musical. But I actually enjoyed this production more than the short-lived over-produced original Broadway production; the story is served better here. 
At Westchester Broadway Theater through January (with some time off in December for a holiday show).

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Category: Musical Theatre Reviews, New York (State) Theatre, Off-Broadway Reviews, Regional

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