Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Saturday Night Fever
Stray Dog Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of Tick, Tick... Boom!

Drew Mizell and Sara Rae Womack (center) and Cast
Photo by John Lamb
I have never before seen an entire cast of local actors and dancers respond so beautifully to their director and his choreographer. Of course, Saturday Night Fever, based on the 1977 film, is not as psychologically dense as Hamlet or King Lear. But the uniform level of clarity and emotional commitment and furiously disciplined dancing live on stage will catch you by surprise, under the direction of Justin Been and the intensive choreography of Michael Hodges at Stray Dog Theatre. I suppose I should hasten to add that Saturday Night Fever does have a kind of "density" all its own, in the form of a slightly doltish script.

Yes, there is a disco light-up floor, and yes, there is a foil-mirror "drop" upstage to heighten that effect (thanks to set designer Josh Smith). And absolutely there is a monsoon of 1970s dance music, thanks mostly to the Bee Gees, with live music beautifully directed by Leah Schultz.

But somehow only now we are beginning to unlock the secret to jukebox musicals. Evidently, it's whatever director Been and choreographer Hodges are doing behind closed doors in their alchemic rehearsals that gives Drew Mizell (as Tony), Sara Rae Womack (as Stephanie), and all their fellow castmates an astonishing degree of freedom, combined with their own ferocious self-discipline, to make you wish it was stagflation and post-Watergate and post-Vietnam, all over again.

At the time, living through it all, it often seemed as bleak as the dark side of the moon. And there are still cringeworthy aspects to Brooklyn, New York, in this sanitized version of the film that make you glad we live in a more enlightened day and age. But the film's anguishing car sex scene is gone, and the harassment of a gay character (in the film's opening minutes) is glossed over, somewhere in the middle.

Still, a quartet of "dese-dem-doze" Italian-American teenagers (and their families) make no apology for their frequent emotional explosions in their dialogue scenes. That rhetorical ferocity falls away in their meticulous live re-workings of the film's tribal dance sequences in a show originally based on the journalism of Nik Cohn. It was then adapted for the stage by movie producer Robert Stigwood, in collaboration with Bill Oaks. And the North American version was further adapted by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti. (The original Broadway production was credited to collaborators Nan Knighton, Stigwood, Arlene Phillips, and Paul Nicholas.) But it seems like a lot of writers for a show that does most of its talking with its feet. Even the well-known disco songs are more literate than the dialogue.

Part of the overall straw-into-gold transformation seems to come from the cast's confidence in knowing they have a perfect Tony in Mr. Mizell. This veteran of cruise-line entertainments does everything right, from splits all the way down on the dance floor to a wide cossack split all the way up in the air. And he does all the dirty work in between, of portraying a flawed character in a story that would otherwise be thinner than he is. Ms. Womack, as his dance partner, sings even more beautifully than she dances, which is saying quite a lot. Their scenes together are as perfectly measured out as their dance numbers. And her rhythmically swirling red dress, by costumer Colleen Michelson, seems drawn by Disney.

Kay Love and Matt Anderson are excellent as Tony's squabbling parents, and Ms. Love is funny as Petra, a dance studio owner. Lindsey Grojean displays outstanding dramatic intensity as Annette and blends seamlessly into the dance chorus. Justin Bouckaert, as Bobby, adds a fine neurotic anxiety to the evening. And Jade Anaiis Hillery and Chris Moore (as the headliner and the manager of the disco club, respectively) bring magic and realism to it all.

Sean Seifert shows remarkable depth as Tony's brother, a priest who (like a lot of priests in the '70s and '80s) makes a shocking decision in a devout Catholic family. He's also nearly unrecognizable in another role, as a member of Tony's gang. And Maggie Nold adds pathos in the role of Bobby's girlfriend.

The dance chorus is relentless, precise, and fun to watch. You might even burn some calories yourself just taking in this two-hour and twenty-minute extravaganza (with one ten-minute intermission). I kind of wish there'd been spotlights and a more pronounced mirror-ball effect. But, either way, this show comes wired with a great mega-wattage all its own.

Saturday Night Fever runs through October 28, 2023, at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue, St. Louis MO For tickets and more information please visit

Frank Manero/Fusco: Matt Anderson
Bobby: Justin Bouckaert
Joey/Ensemble: Michael Cox
Connie/Ensemble: Ella Drake
Doreen/Ensemble: Kayla Dressman
Annette/Ensemble: Lindsey Grojean
Double-J/Ensemble: Jayson Heil
Candy: Jade Anaiis Hillery
Linda Manero/Ensemble: Nadja Kapetanovich
Flo Manero/Saleswoman/Petra: Kay Love
Tony Manero: Drew Mizell
Monty: Chris Moore
Pauline/Ensemble/Assistant Choreographer: Maggie Nold
Gus/Frank Manero, Jr.: Sean Seifert
Stephanie Mangano: Sara Rae Womack

Band (includes some alternating players):
Music Director/Conductor/Piano: Leah Schultz
Cello: Marie Brown
Trumpet: Mo Carr
Violin: Steve Frisbee
Bass: John Gerdes
Reed: Lea Gerdes
Bass: Xander Gerdes
Cello: Beau Lewis
Guitar: Adam Rugo
Reed: Mary Wiley

Production Staff:
Director: Justin Been
Choreographer: Michael Hodges
Assistant Choreographer: Maggie Nold
Music Director: Leah Schultz
Costume Designer: Colleen Michelson
Scenic Designer. Josh Smith
Sound Designer: Justin Been
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Light Board Operator: Dominic Emery
Property Designers: Justin Been, Gary F. Bell
Sound Designer: Justin Been