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`Saturday Night Fever’

There is no inoculation for "Saturday Night

Fever."

The only thing that can alleviate the burning desire to return to

the disco scene of the ’70s, or cure those who still get the shakes

thinking of John Travolta undulating in that white suit, is to rent

the movie again or go to this Broadway show.

Setting the scene for that "Disco Inferno" called "2001"

was easy. And except for the sound level, hearing those great songs

by the Bee Gees — "Stayin’ Alive," "If I Can’t Have

You,"

"More Than A Woman," "Disco Duck," and "How Deep

is Your Love" — should make you feel alive and ready to disco.

It’s the second option that poses a small problem, no Travolta.

James Carpinello, who plays the Travolta role of disco-fevered Tony

Manero, is trim, can sing and act okay, and has the cool/hot attitude

of a dance-crazed Romeo down pat. That he is a little on the short

side (at least, most of the male dancers appear to tower over him),

only makes us more aware of the more charismatic dancers and better

dancing going on around him.

No, Carpinello, who scored off-Broadway last season in "Stupid

Kids," isn’t a world-class dancer, but you could argue that Tony

isn’t supposed to be as spectacular a dancer as the others. This is

made clear in the final dance competition. This doesn’t compensate

for the less than dynamic impression Carpinello gives gyrating around

the Bay Ridge neighborhood and rehearsing at the Dale dance studio.

I’d like to bet that whoever the producers get to replace Carpinello

somewhere down the line will be a better candidate to emulate

Travolta,

a consideration that appears to be the main objective, however

misguided.

That doesn’t mean that Carpinello isn’t working his erogenous zones

to generate sparks and a personable front. As the ambitious and cocky

Brooklyn youth that dreams of making it big in that other borough

called Manhattan, Carpinello preens and affects the familiar Travolta

attitudes, poses, and postures. Except for the protruding head mike

(unattractively displayed on all the performers) that makes him, in

particular, look like an invading Martian, Carpinello goes through

the obligatory Travolta-like motions like a pro. He and his co-star

Paige Price, who plays Stephanie, the self-educating young woman who

has managed to get herself out of Brooklyn, have their work cut out

for them keeping us involved in their relationship that follows the

same course taken in the film.

Unlike the dramatic film in which the Bee Gees’ songs

served only as a background score and for the dancing, the show’s

adapters Nan Knighton, in collaboration with Arlene Phillips (who

also directed and choreographed), have the characters sing the

familiar

songs, none of which were written to be used as narrative drive.

Considering

the apparent success of "Footloose" (less tolerable both

musically

and dramatically), "Saturday Night Fever" at least has a

plausible

story to tell.

In fairness, it offers a realistic, if glossy, depiction of a time

and a place. It’s too bad that it has also been conceived as a giant

budget-be-damned industrial show. The sound of the music from the

pit is the pits. In this not so golden age of amplification, the

tinny,

shrill, skimpy, blaring, and unnatural noise that passes for

orchestral

accompaniment is the production’s disgrace, as well as a humiliation

of the musicians of Union Local 802. I’m surprised that the union

has never called a strike against the audio engineers at the Minskoff.

The excellent scenic designs here by Robin Wagner have more dimension

than the characters, and offer thrills and excitement on their own.

The Verrazano Narrows Bridge on a Saturday night, replete with an

illusion of moving traffic, makes its awesome appearance, and provides

a recurring landscape for scaling, dancing and, of course, the tragic

death of the pathetic and disconsolate Bobby C., played like a lost

soul appropriately by Paul Castree).

Another lost loser is Orfeh, the one-name singer who plays Annette,

the one-girl groupie with only two thoughts in her head, to dance

with Tony and get laid by Tony. Orfeh, a rather good singer, does

get her chance to give even the hearing-impaired their money’s worth

with, "If I Can’t Have You." Almost more electric than Andrew

Bridge’s lighting is the eccentric performance of Bryan Batt, as the

shamelessly sleazy dance promoter and studio instructor. His

performance

contains the edge of parody that is lurking in the commercial heart

of "Saturday Night Fever." HH

— Simon Saltzman

Saturday Night Fever, Minskoff Theater, Broadway at 45th

Street, New York. $30 to $80. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000 or

212-307-4100.


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