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.
"Saturday Night Fever"★ ★ ★
Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through March 19
Running time: About two hours 30 minutes, including intermission
Parking: Free adjacent parking garage
Rating: For mature audiences; contains harsh language, drug use and violence
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).
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.
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.