Review: Saturday Night Fever Is Burning Hot at Theatre Three

Theatre Three closes its 47th season to packed houses with audience favorite, Saturday Night Fever the musical.

The movie from which this play was adapted became a resounding commercial success in 1977. It catapulted the career of John Travolta, best known at that time as cocky leader of the Sweathogs, Vinnie Barbarino, in Welcome Back Kotter (1975-1979) and later as cool, Danny Zuko, in Grease (1978). The film showcased the songs of the Bee Gees, bringing their music to the forefront of the disco era as they topped the charts, and 15x platinum album was one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time.

Nostalgia reigns supreme as we are transported back in time to the great blackout of July 13, 1977, to the terrifying summer of the Son of Sam, to the low and gravelly voice of Scott Muni dominating the airwaves, and to a time when disco was king.

Set in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, under the shadows of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Tony Manero saunters onstage, charismatically portrayed by Bobby Peterson—complete with six-pack abs and all the recognizable John Travolta poses. Tony is stuck in a dead-end job working weekdays at a paint store, hanging out with his wisecracking, mischievous pals after work and dealing with his dysfunctional family (his parents are played with quintessential Italian style by Debbie D’Amore and Jeff Pangburn).

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero

Bobby Peterson as Tony Manero, Photo: Courtesy Theatre Three

But when the weekend comes, Tony exits the drudgery of everyday life for his glamorous role as dance king at the disco club, 2001 Odyssey, replete with glittering mirror ball and backdrop of flashing lights (designed by Robert W. Henderson, Jr.). The club announces a $1,000 cash prize dance contest that Tony is intent on winning. Annette (Beth Whitford) longs to be his girlfriend as well as his dance partner for the contest. Tony’s rejection is met with her stirring response in the show-stopping “If I Can’t Have You.”

His eyes are instead set on Stephanie Mangano (played by Rachel Greenblatt with impressive voice and dance moves). Stephanie, also from Italian heritage, resolves to leave Bay Ridge for upper-class Manhattan, but agrees to join Tony as his partner in the contest.

Tony’s entourage gets mixed up in serious trouble after one of their own, Gus (Eric Hughes), gets attacked and the others decide to assault the gang Gus says is responsible. Problem: Gus later backpedals, confessing that he might have blamed the wrong guys.

A heartbreaking climactic point is reached with Bobby C (delicately portrayed by Mike Fales) and Pauline (played with necessary intensity by Emily Gates), who is pregnant with his child, but we won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film.

The powerhouse belting voices of Monty (Kyle Perry) and Candy (Corryn David) are woven through multiple songs. Their poignant rendition of “More Than a Woman” accompanies Tony and Stephanie as they compete in the dance off.

The spectacular final scene features twirls and lifts by Tony and Stephanie’s dance rivals, Maria (Nicole Bianco) and Cesar (Alex Esquivel). This scene, as well as all the dazzling dance sequences performed by the company, is a testament to Whitney Stone’s choreography.

The exuberant finale, featuring the entire company strutting down side aisles, is infectious. It’s a struggle not to get up from one’s seat and join the fun.

Saturday Night Fever at Theatre Three

Saturday Night Fever at Theatre Three, Photo: Courtesy Theatre Three

Ronald Green III sets an authentic mood with his period piece costumes, including Tony’s iconic white tuxedo. Randall Parsons’ sets flow seamlessly from the club to Tony’s bedroom, detailed with posters such as the famous Farrah Fawcett swimsuit photo and a portrait of Al Pacino, to the family dining room and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Jeffrey Hoffman’s orchestra punctuates each Bee Gees tune with an electrifying disco beat that reverberates throughout Theatre Three’s grand playhouse.

Presiding over this exhilarating and entertaining production is director Jeffrey Sanzel.

Catch Saturday Night Fever at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson (412 Main Street) through June 24. The show runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Call 631-928-9100 or visit theatrethree.com for tickets.

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