The younger generation has not had a chance to witness the impact of the movie “Saturday Night Fever” (SNF) made in the ’70s. It would be great to see a new generation of theatergoers dancing in the aisles to the timeless tunes of The Bee Gees,” says Patrick Bywalski, deputy chairman of Robert Stigwood Organization Ltd., which co-produces the upcoming Asian Tour of the hit West End and Broadway dance musical “SNF” alongside Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (Ateg) and Ten Bridges Media Corp.
In fact, the dancing crowd doing the hustle is expected to spill out of The Theatre at Solaire Resort and Casino, where a ’70s disco-themed party will take place at a nearby venue to aptly kick off the tour running in Manila (July 3-26), Kuala Lumpur (September 1-15), and Singapore (September 25 to October 11).
“Since ‘SNF’ opened in the West End in 1997, we’ve nurtured the musical around the globe with each production contextualized [and recontextualized] to please the local customs,” adds Bywalski.
Apparently, the recent UK productions and the upcoming Asian Tour of the musical have been more fearless—definitely more provocative—than their sanitized predecessors in the West End and on Broadway by staying true to the authentic, gritty realism depicted in the landmark film.
“The film was, finally, so authentic…it was more of a documentary,” Karen Lynn Gorney, the actress who played Stephanie Mangano, the love interest of John Travolta’s Tony Manero in the film, told Vanity Fair in December 2007. “We improvised for two weeks, so that by the time it came to filming, [film director] John Badham just shot what was happening. It wasn’t acting.”
With the stamp of approval to reimagine “SNF” onstage for Asian audiences, multi-awarded stage director Bobby Garcia has set his eyes on reliving the authentic coming-of-age in a tough world story of the film—amid the backdrop of the pulsating strobe lights of the infamous retro ’70s disco era.
For Garcia, nothing would be more authentic than asking Broadway choreographer and child of the ’70s Vince Pesce to join his creative team. Pesce, who’s a longtime associate choreographer of Tony winner Kathleen Marshall, grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, where the movie was filmed. “I’ve a clear memory of the movement/dance and how it made us feel,” says Pesce.
Based upon music critic Nik Cohn’s magazine article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” which was published in the June 7, 1976 issue of New York, “SNF” tells the story of Italian-American Vincent (later renamed to Tony Manero) and his gang in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn who are stuck in dead-end jobs but rule the dance floor at the discotheque 2001 Odyssey. Vincent or Tony is a tough cookie; an outstanding dancer, his ultimate dream was to escape the mean streets of Brooklyn.
“I did go back and look at the movie again just to make sure I capture the gritty, dynamic, and social movement that shifted popular dance as we know it,” Pesce continues. “With that in mind, Bobby Garcia, our director, and I felt we needed to expand the dancing in the show and make it more relatable to modern audiences yet remain true to the original choreography. You’ll get to see the hustle, Travolta’s finger point, and lots of exciting disco dancing but much more is needed to be done.
“Today’s sophisticated audiences are accustomed to intricate, dynamic dance styles on TV, e.g. ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ We have to deliver expanded dance sequences that will thrill. On the other hand, we also have to create a world of movement that doesn’t only take place in the disco. Essentially, we need to capture the pulse, frustration, and energy of the streets of Brooklyn and the ’70s social movements.”
A show that’s heavy on the dance side yet demands authentic emotions onstage, a triple threat casting is equally crucial. “We auditioned for the roles of Tony, Stephanie, Tony’s friend Double J, and a [Latin] dancer in N.Y.,” says West End and Broadway casting director Tara Rubin. “We were looking for great actors, singers, and dancers who seemed authentic to the show’s time and place. We needed actors experienced enough to star in the show and play these iconic roles.”
Pesce adds, “The culture in Brooklyn is all about bigger than life and fun loving personalities. We didn’t stop looking until we found them.”
At the end of the auditions, Brandon Rubendall (“Spider-man” on Broadway), Jenna Rubaii (“American Idiot”), and Nick Varricchio (“A Chorus Line”) were cast as Tony, Stephanie, and Double J, respectively.
Thespians Marie Rose, Rafa Giguion-Reyna, Yanah Laurel, Jamie Wilson, and Carla Guevara-Laforteza are also joining its 20-strong cast.
Besides Garcia, Pesce, and Rubin, Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo, original lighting designer of “SNF” on Broadway Paul Miller, costume designer Eric Pineda, and musical director Ceejay Javier are also part of the show’s first-rate creative team.
For tickets and more information, call Ateg at (632)650 5144 or (63917) 8381534; visit TicketWorld at ticketworld.com.ph.
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