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updated: 1/30/2017 9:49 AM

Drury Lane's skillfully revamped 'Saturday Night Fever' a feast of 1970s nostalgia

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  • Stephanie Mangano (Erica Stephan) and Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) dance to "More Than a Woman" in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. The revamped screen-to-stage adaptation of the 1977 film continues through Sunday, March 19.

    Stephanie Mangano (Erica Stephan) and Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) dance to "More Than a Woman" in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. The revamped screen-to-stage adaptation of the 1977 film continues through Sunday, March 19.
    Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

  • Joey (Joe Capstick), left, Double J (Brandon Springman), Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar), Bobby C (Nick Cosgrove) and Gus (Will Lidke) sing about putting on their "Boogie Shoes" in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

    Joey (Joe Capstick), left, Double J (Brandon Springman), Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar), Bobby C (Nick Cosgrove) and Gus (Will Lidke) sing about putting on their "Boogie Shoes" in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
    Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

  • The ensemble dances up a storm in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. The show continues through Sunday, March 19.

    The ensemble dances up a storm in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. The show continues through Sunday, March 19.
    Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

 
 

Drury Lane Theatre's skillfully revamped take on "Saturday Night Fever" opens with an enormous disco mirror ball rising to the rafters. The effect, which pays homage to the famed chandelier of "The Phantom of the Opera," gets the show off to a glittering start.

Moments like this, not to mention the multicolored lights adorning the auditorium's trademark chandeliers, underscore how Drury Lane is turning up the glitz to rehabilitate previous 1990s screen-to-stage adaptations of the iconic 1977 film.

Drury Lane's "Saturday Night Fever" serves up a feast of '70s nostalgia and Bee Gees hits with some important, and welcome, changes. The production debuts a new "North American version" script by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, and it wisely scrubs some of the film's jarring sexism and racism.

Not all the adaptation problems are solved. It's tough transforming what was originally background film music into sung character-driven stage numbers, but Cercone and Abbinanti make smart structural changes, reshuffle some songs and add others to work dramatic wonders.

The result is a flashy and energetic production from director/choreographer Dan Knechtges that succeeds as a guilty pleasure, thanks in large part to its amazingly polished cast of dancers and strong lead performances.

Adrian Aguilar carries the show in the John Travolta role of Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Italian-American who shakes off his dead-end hardware-store job by dancing up a storm with his friends on weekends. Aguilar's muscled frame and loads of charisma make it easy to understand why Manero is pursued by so many women, especially his lovelorn friend Annette (Landree Fleming in a heartbreaking turn).

Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) argues with Annette (Landree Fleming) about competing in a disco dance competition in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) argues with Annette (Landree Fleming) about competing in a disco dance competition in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. - Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

Aguilar pairs marvelously with Erica Stephan as the ambitious Stephanie Mangano, a fellow Brooklynite who strives to cross bridges to live a more sophisticated life in Manhattan. Aguilar and Stephan have great chemistry together, and their often confrontational banter generates plenty of endearing sparks.

As in the film, secondary characters aren't always sketched out well. Yet supporting actors such as Bret Tuomi and Marya Grandy do what they can to comically flesh out their minor roles.

As Manero's troubled buddy Bobby C, Nick Cosgrove now has more to do with the script addition of Allyson Graves as his girlfriend, Pauline (she's largely left off-screen in the film).

Disco originally developed in underground African-American and gay clubs before catching on widely, so it's a nice touch that Knechtges has diversely cast performers such as Jhardon DiShon Milton as the cool DJ Monty and Alex Newell as the added disco diva Candy. Newell is so strong vocally that you wish drag singer Sylvester's hit "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" could have been added to the show.

Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) shares his wonder of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge out of Brooklyn with Stephanie Mangano (Erica Stephan) in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) shares his wonder of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge out of Brooklyn with Stephanie Mangano (Erica Stephan) in "Saturday Night Fever" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. - Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

Ryan O'Gara's eye-popping lighting design enhances the show's dazzle by illuminating Kevin Depinet's ever-present, plush disco club set. Rachel Laritz's 1970s costumes also straddle the line between homage and parody, giving off haute fashion-envy to the oft-mocked outfits of the era.

"Saturday Night Fever" isn't the greatest screen-to-stage adaptation out there, but Drury Lane's entertainingly rethought production makes a convincing argument for it. And for those whose teenage years were dominated by The Bee Gees' disco hits, "Saturday Night Fever" functions as a polished nostalgia trip.

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