By Kristina Dorsey — The Day

Published May 5 2016

Certain distinct elements stood out about the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever”: The music. The star. And the grit.

Yes, grit. The blockbuster had a dark undertone, reflecting the lives of struggling, “going-nowhere” young men like Tony Manero in 1970s Brooklyn.

When it morphed into a stage musical in 1998, though, “Saturday Night Fever” ended up being buffed and polished.

So it remains in its current tour, which played the Garde Arts Center on Thursday night.

Now, granted, the story still touches on some tough subjects, but the show feels like a glossy round-up of key moments from the movie.

The drama and weight are lost, replaced with more of a humor-based, broad-Broadway sheen.

Of course, a lot of the appeal in “Saturday Night Fever” is the music and the dancing.

This tour production, which was still running at deadline, has fun with some of the numbers.

Best is when the dance floor is jammed with cast members stepping and spinning and shimmying to “Disco Inferno” and “Night Fever.” A disco ball casts sparkles of light that skitter across the silver backdrop, and a machine puffs out clouds of atmospheric smoke.

The show actually could have used more of those numbers and trimmed back the dialogue.

All those fabulous songs from the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack crank up here.

Sad to say, the Bee Gees tunes do lose something when they’re not sung by the brothers Gibb. The Bee Gees had such a gloriously distinctive sound that performances in this version can feel like a cover band offering watered-down “Saturday Night Fever” hits.

Two moments, though, stand out, in part to creative reimagining and in part to two dynamic actresses.

“If I Can’t Have You” becomes a heart-baring ballad, and it’s performed with vocal nuance and emotional heft by Anna Baker, who plays Annette, the lost soul who’s desperate to be Tony’s girlfriend.

And Gabriella Whiting, who has the most wonderfully robust voice in the cast, brings a sinuous sensuality to a slowed “Nights on Broadway.” (Whiting tears it up, too, on “Disco Inferno.”)

John Travolta’s turn as Tony in the “Saturday Night Fever” movie, of course, made him a superstar, as the actor not only danced like a dream but also conveyed the vulnerability lurking underneath the character’s bravado.

No one can rival Travolta in the role.

Matthew Baker is the one tasked with stepping into Travolta’s white suit. He leans too heavily on the comedy most of the time, but he nicely conveys Tony’s longing for approval in a short but moving confrontation with Tony’s father (Walter A. Milani).

Baker mimics Travolta’s cocky strut well, although his dancing doesn’t have the artistry and bit of magic that anyone playing Tony really needs.

Baker does have a nice spark with Danielle Marie Gonzalez, as Stephanie, the dance partner Tony is taken with.

Their sassy flirtation is fun, as Stephanie keeps the usually confident Tony off balance — and as she gives him a window into the possibility of life beyond Brooklyn.

 

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