The movie that made John Travolta a household name and The Bee Gees the kings of disco is back for its 40th anniversary, touching down in musical format at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace (though it’s easily competing with anything happening downtown). Actually, the famed suburban venue looks like it stepped straight out of Studio 54 in the 1970s as guests are greeted with an array of colored lights, the sounds of Donna Summer, and once the main event gets underway, the glitzy glow of the 2001 Odyssey club that could even make the show’s drab and racially divided Brooklyn neighborhood look spectacular.
Throughout it all, there are tons more smash singles from the original soundtrack and surrounding era (“Nights On Broadway,” “What Kind Of Fool,” “How Deeps Is Your Love”), alongside several zesty solos from soulful “Glee” alum Alex Newell (who added an extra celeb factor to opening night).
After all, disco was the height of night life decadence, and while rock n’ rollers may have eventually revolted to the movement right here in Chicago at Comiskey Park, songs such as “Stayin’ Alive,” “Jive Talkin’,” “If I Can’t Have You” and “You Should Be Dancing” have since thrived across multiple generations. Even those who never liked the style in the first place may have been swayed to hit the dance floor after watching 19-year-old paint store worker Tony Manero (Adrian Aguilar) linking up with the slightly older and much more sophisticated public relations rep Stephanie Mangano (Erica Stephan) making moves like anyone on “Dancing With The Stars” would these days.
Granted, Aguilar isn’t quite as accomplished with his steps as Travolta (and his talking tone perhaps more closely resembles Sylvester Stallone), but he’s nonetheless a likeable star in his own right who’s paired properly with Stephan (by far one of the cast’s strongest voices). Adding to the experience is Tony’s gang of troublemaking cronies, a troubled home life (hampered by an unemployed father and news his brother is renouncing the priesthood), alongside a web of convoluted racial tensions, but they only seem to add fuel to his fire of wanting to win the 2001 Odyssey’s $1,000 dance competition.
Throughout it all, there are tons more smash singles from the original soundtrack and surrounding era (“Nights On Broadway,” “What Kind Of Fool,” “How Deeps Is Your Love”), alongside several zesty solos from soulful “Glee” alum Alex Newell (who added an extra celeb factor to opening night). Besides the many familiar moments, this reworking of “Saturday Night Fever” also tones down some of the movie’s darker elements by dropping references to suicidal rants, rape, drug use and more graphic violence.
It’s sure to be noticed by pursuits hoping to see the characters display rawer emotions, but it doesn’t take away from the flow of the plot, while also making the still dramatic quest for the grand prize more appropriate for a wider age range. And be sure to stick around after Tony’s transformation from “interesting” to “intelligent” surrounding some unexpected trophy shuffling for a mega-mix that sends out this eye, ear and heart-pleasing presentation with an all-out “Disco Inferno.”