In Concert

Guys, it’s time to dig into your closet and shake the dust from your polyester, large-collared, chest-exposing dance shirt. Divas, grab your sequin-studded blouse and bell-bottomed slacks or favorite jumpsuit – it’s time to disco! Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook hosts an electric 1970’s dance party to remember with their current production of Saturday Night Fever the Musical. Following the 1977 hit film that catapulted John Travolta to superstar status for his portrayal of Tony Manero, a troubled kid from The Bronx who finds escape from his dilemmas by lighting up the dance floor on Saturday nights, we are thrust into an exciting time capsule when disco was king.

As the story goes, Tony, who works a dead-end job in a hardware store, just wants to be somebody. And he is – on weekends. He just wants to dance! He’s got the hair, good looks, charisma, and dance moves that make him an instant celebrity whenever he walks into 2001, the neighborhood disco hotspot, all the girls lining up to partner with him, all the guys wishing they had half his talent. With a couples’ dance contest coming up that awards a cool thousand bucks to the winning team, Tony searches for a partner, of course seeking out the one girl who is not overly impressed with him. Saturday Night Fever the Musical, keenly directly by Tony-nominated Dan Knechtges, is a well-rounded story that delves into Tony’s stereotypical New York Italian home life, his life on the streets hanging out with his close-knit gang and his quest for love, that, for once, doesn’t come so easy. Adding a humorous spin to the classic film, this dazzling production offers a good amount of laughs while holding onto the integrity of the film. 

The music is half the fun. While the soundtrack is heavily driven by the music of The Bee Gees implementing favorites like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “More Than A Woman” and “Jive Talkin’”, were also turned onto other disco staples that include “Boogie Shoes”, Disco Duck” and “Disco Inferno”. And as good as the music is, the dancing is just as impressive, getting spectacular individual and ensemble performances that make it difficult for audience members to restrain from taking the stage and join in the disco celebration, also encouraged by the tremendous set that recreates a captivating 1970’s dance club – strobe light, red velvet walls and all. 

Adrian Aguilar is seemingly made for the role of Tony Manero. The Jeff Award nominated actor who once starred as Rocky Balboa in Broadway’s Rocky, is nothing short of sensational. The search for the perfect Tony was widespread, with auditions held in not only Chicago but also New York, Houston and Los Angeles, and it was right here in Chicago that the production found its seamless fit. Says Kyle DeSantis, President of Drury Lane Productions, “Out of the many talented artists we saw, no one came close to Chicago’s unparalleled Adrian Auguilar as Tony.” And DeSantis could not have been any more correct as Aguilar delivers a strong performance bringing with him the comic chops and astounding dancing ability needed for the role. Aguilar is also able to tackle the demanding vocals required to take on the many numbers to which his character is highlighted and adds just the right amount of dramatic precision that give us a believable Tony Manero. 

Aguilar, whose dynamite performance is worth the cost of admission alone, is surrounded by a heaping helping of talent. Landree Fleming, who recently knocked the socks off of theatre goers in her performance as Kira in American Theater Company’s Xanadu, is back, this time delivering solid support as Manero’s clingy wannabe girlfriend Annette, while Erica Stephan does an admirable job as Stephanie, the dancer who has captured the starry eyes of our story’s star. Making his Drury Lane debut is standout actor Alex Newell, best known for his portrayal of transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams on Fox’s hit series Glee. Newell is rightly cast for the role of Candy, a disco diva who truly belts, delivering a handful of drop-your-jaw moments. In Saturday Night Fever the Musical, we also get a consistently strong boost from an ultra-talented ensemble that is not only able to bring a disco to life on several occasions, but can add credible depth to this classic story thanks to a slew of strong acting and vocal performances. Yet we cannot overlook Ryan O'Gara's stunning lighting design (disco ball included) and Rachel Laritz' spot on 1970's costume design that so well breathes life into Kevin Depinet's lavish red-velvet laden set. 

This new, reworked North American version, scripted by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti adds even more style and flair to an already stage proven production that made waves after its London mount in 1998 and invaded America with a Broadway run in 2000. An era of pop culture poked fun of so often (and a handful of parodies are certainly present in this production), this is a musical that also celebrates disco and reminds us of the pivotal part it played in our musical history and of its ever-perpetual influence that remains.  

Saturday Night Fever the Musical pulls out all the stops, delivering a show that has it all – dancing, singing, visuals and humor, while distributing a plethora of 1970's nostalgia. Songs you may have long forgotten will be stuck in your head days afterward – in a good way. Running at Drury Lane Theatre through March 19th (now extended through April 9th), this is a production that is sure to bring the boogie out in each of us no matter how buried inside it may be.

Recommended.

For tickets and/or more show information, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

One thing for sure - there is no shortage of shows to see in Las Vegas. Home to some of the most dazzling production shows, Broadway-esque musicals and magic acts, The Strip is sure to entertain, finding something for just about anyone, including music lovers of all varieties. As the other shows go, when it comes to live music, choices also span widely from resident acts such as Donny and Marie to Celine Dion, and though fantastic shows in their own right I’d be more than hard pressed to find a more action-packed show than The Australian Bee Gees performed at Excalibur Hotel and Casino. 

 

One of the most outstanding tribute shows ever assembled, this outfit does the Bee Gees right. In fact, Barry Gibbs’ own mother quoted her son as saying the AGB is the best in the world at what they do. And who can really argue with that? After watching their show I sure can’t. 

 

Set in an intimate theatre that probably holds less than three hundred people, fans are able to get an up close and personal experience to the music of the Brothers Gibb. Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb are wonderfully played by Matt Baldoni, Wayne Hosking, and David Scott who perpetuate the famous band’s legacy with an enormous amount of respect, talent and excitement. This engaging, hit-filled show is broken down into different periods taking on the earlier triumphs of the Bee Gees before heading to their later, and probably most influential, years when Saturday Night Live was all the rage. With a comprehensive catalog of material hitting on love ballads like “How Deep is Your Love” and “Too Much Heaven” that are nearly guaranteed to bring out the romance in everyone, the set also lets the crowd get their boogie on with popular disco faves “Stayin’ Alive”, “Tragedy”, “Jive Talkin’”, and “You Should Be Dancing”, even transforming part of the venue into a dance club for the last handful of numbers. 

 

In their heyday, it was probably difficult to find someone who did not own an LP or 8-track of a Bee Gees album. Many of us have grown up with the band’s music that still holds a dominant place and influence in today’s world, making this show an exciting trip down nostalgia lane. And for those who did not, I envy their experience of discovering this music in such a fun and unique way. Immortalized in classic films, still played regularly in radio rotations, the music of the Bee Gees always takes us back to one of the most memorable periods of pop culture, highlighting the ever so groove-laden, bell-bottomed, big collared, gold medallion-hanging-over-open-chest disco era. Yet, we cannot overlook the incredible talent involved in writing and performing the music that made them famous, making The Australian Bee Gees show all that more impressive as they handle the vocals and instrumentation with amazing precision while infusing the perfect amount of energy and personality into their act to create this rare show opportunity. In other words, they wholeheartedly capture the spirit of the Bee Gees. 

 

Owned and operated by David Scott, Wayne Hosking, bassist Tony Richards and Michael Clift (who also performs as Barry Gibb), The Australian Bee Gees are not only a successful Las Vegas act, as they are well into their fifth year to performing for packed houses at Excalibur, they are also a popular international touring group. How can they tour while playing six nights a week in Las Vegas? Easy, by rolling out more than one band. In fact, they even have a third outfit assembled for good measure. That said, The Australian Bee Gees success is world wide. It also helps that people from all over the world attend the band’s Las Vegas’ shows, adding to their already large amount of world-wide exposure, a segment of the show proudly paying homage to the homelands of their audience members in a uniquely fun fashion. Outside of their current Las Vegas home, the band has also had residencies in other parts of the world including a six-week run at The Broadway Playhouse in Chicago. 

The band formed just over twenty years ago when “the guys” played in various cover bands and original projects throughout Australia upon realizing that no one was doing a Bee Gees tribute. Thinking it could be a challenging project and having an obvious appreciation for the music, the musicians gave it a shot and clicked immediately. Testing the waters the ABG’s booked some shows in China and after three weeks of sold out shows in Hong Kong, it was apparent they were on to something special. After their inaugural tour success, the band quickly flew back to Australia and put an entire show together based on the One Night Only concert (The Bee Gees one and only concert). Since, it has gradually snowballed into what it has become today - a fantastic tribute to an iconic band where fans around the world can relive the magic of The Bee Gees - a band that has performed in over forty-five countries.

 

Though their initial success caught on overseas, the band still had to conquer America. The Bee Gees certainly achieved a great level of success here and that naturally played into their favor. However, if any trepidation existed amongst the ABG members, it was unwarranted as Americans welcomed them with open arms. Wayne proved to be correct when he said, “If you can make it in Australia, you can make it anywhere”, referring to the band’s rather tough home audiences. 

 

The band describes the Bee Gees music as universal and timeless so much so that they cannot fit enough hits into one show. In seeing the AGB’s live, it is evident the band members are not just going through the motions but rather are playing with a true love and enthusiasm for the music - something the audience feeds on rabidly.  

 

When asked the band’s favorite song to perform they quickly agreed that they often have a special moment with the audience when playing “Words”, as fans sing along with the ballad word for word - even in countries where English is not widely spoken. Though many songs head the list of favorites, the band also explains that set lists are changed depending on where they are playing. For instance, what may be popular in Germany, may not be as popular in other parts of the world. Another example would be the popularity of Spicks and Specks, The Bee Gees breakout number one hit in Australia that, over there, compares to the popularity of Stayin’ Alive here in the States.  

 

Family-friendly, edgy and brilliantly performed, this is a show that can be enjoyed over and over again. Catch the fever - the Saturday Night Fever - and pass it on - it’s contagious.      

 

As a heads up, here are a few things one might expect at an Australian Bee Gees show - lots of toe tapping, hand clapping, dancing (whether at your seat or a few feet over at “Club Mo”), humor, the likeness and sound of The Bee Gees remarkably revisited and and all around experience where you will leave knowing that you just attended one of the most energetic and memorable shows on The Strip. Tickets are priced at an ultra reasonable $49.95-$59.95, making this not just one of the more affordable Las Vegas shows but one of the best overall values. 

 

Published in In Concert

 

 

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