Stray Dog's Saturday Night Fever Has All the Right Moves

The Tower Grove East theater brings out the disco ball for a fun, nostalgic show

Oct 10, 2023 at 12:46 pm
click to enlarge The cast of Saturday Night Fever strikes a pose.
John Lamb
The cast of Saturday Night Fever strikes a pose.

Stray Dog Theatre invites audiences to put on their dancing shoes and boogie on over to the Tower Grove Abbey for Saturday Night Fever. The seminal disco movie and its inimitable soundtrack are transformed into a light-hearted pop musical that’s teeming with ’70s nostalgia, a little romance, infectious beats and signature dance moves. Director Justin Been and the talented cast place their emphasis on capturing the spirit of the era and its memorable choreography, and the result is an entertaining trip back in time.

Nineteen-year-old Tony Manero works a dead-end job in a blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood challenged by tough financial times. When he’s not working, Tony hangs out with his lifelong friends, tries to keep his parents from getting too fed up with him and practices for Saturday nights at the club. When the club announces a dance contest with a $1,000 prize, Tony knows this could be his big chance to prove himself, but who should be his partner? 

The musical puts the focus on dancing and Tony’s commitment to improving his skills, with multiple scenes in the neighborhood dance studio in addition to the club. This emphasis is smart as the story is burdened by multiple subplots delivered in short, dialogue-heavy scenes. With the exception of two or three key moments, there are just too many unfinished thoughts and loose threads, such as the subplot with Tony’s brother and a neighborhood feud. Even Tony’s existential brooding over his future and whether to seriously pursue dancing or not gets lost in a half-baked nod to acceptance that feels more like the set up for the romantic conclusion rather than a bold statement.

Thankfully, Drew Mizell as Tony and Sara Rae Womack as Stephanie make us care about that budding romance and anticipate the big dance scenes, which choreographer Michael Hodges has filled with familiar disco steps and turns. Mizell and Womack move and sing well together, creating good chemistry. They stand out even in the all-company numbers, with Mizell leaning into John Travolta’s original moves without becoming caricature. Justin Bouckaert, Maggie Nold, Lindsey Grojean and Sean Seifert have spotlight moments as Tony’s friends and brother while Jade Anaiis Hillery and Chris Moore hit all the right notes as Candy and DJ Monty. “Boogie Shoes,” “Disco Inferno,” “If I Can’t Have You” and “Night Fever” are particularly effective in the first act and “Nights on Broadway,” “More Than a Woman” and “How Deep Is Your Love” deliver the passion and emotion of the second act.

The tight stage causes some clustering and songs occasionally drag, perhaps because synchronicity is key and even a slight misstep is instantly noticed. Luckily, the enthusiasm and commitment to the disco vibe is stronger than the errors, and I expect the choreography and pace will continue to improve over the run. While the story arc is a little flat and forced, the ’70s pop hits are well delivered and the infectious finale is illuminated with a light-up floor and sparkling disco ball, ensuring Saturday Night Fever is nostalgic, booty shaking fun.

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