Tag Archives: John Travolta

My Review of Saturday Night Fever: The Musical, at Sea

24 Jun

June 24, 2015

It’s well-known that I wasn’t a big fan of the movie Saturday Night Fever. If you asked me about it, I’d go on a rant about what a complete idiot Tony was, and how John Travolta was the perfect idiot for the part. I hated everything about that movie and if you had the misfortune be near me when it came on TV, or if a Bee Gees song came on the radio, or even if you were a total stranger riding the bus and a guy wearing a white suit passed by on the street, you were likely to get an earful from me.

Well, all that changed some years ago. I’ve come to appreciate that movie and yes, I grudgingly admit that it is well-written. But Tony is still an idiot and Travolta still comes off like a jerk. (In real life. In the film he’s an idiot.)

Anyway, I live in the same area they filmed the movie, and if you want to read and hear me talk about it, check out this New York Minute and listen to me on the Flash Pulp podcast.

If you’ve been reading the last couple of Mr. Blog’s Tepid blogs, you’ve read about how I went on a Caribbean cruise and encountered no one but people from Brooklyn. (And some Caribbeans too, but that’s what you’d expect.) The cherry on top was the show they presented: Saturday Night Live, the Musical.

NightFeverMusical

I must point out that the play had the same ratio of speech to song as the movie, so either they are both musicals or they are both not musicals. Either the movie or the play needs to be renamed.

You might find it strange that a Broadway play was staged on a cruise ship. Don’t be. The cruise ship had a very complete Broadway-style stage in the theater, complete with raising and lowering sections of the floor, complex sets, and state-of-the-art lighting and other equipment. In fact, there were only two differences between the ship’s stage and a Broadway theater stage. 1- It was a little smaller 2- Most Broadway stages do not gently sway on the ocean waves

So there I was, watching my Brooklyn neighborhood recreated in the waters off St. Maarten. There was Lenny’s Pizza, where I had ordered a pie from just a week or so before. There was the Verrazano Bridge, which I see from my window every day. There was the dance studio that was turned into a Chinese discount store a few years back that I pass all the time and never go into.

It was weird. If they had recreated the bagel store that I buy coffee from I would have been right at home.

As for the play itself, well, I wasn’t impressed. For example, many of the iconic Bee Gees songs were merely played in the background, and even worse, many weren’t in the show at all. And even worse? Some that were in the play were cover versions! What’s up with that, I ask, in a Brooklyn accent?

A play can’t do what a movie can, so many scenes were cut, or changed, and some of the choices were odd, like giving Bobby C a bigger role than in the film, and giving the DJ at the disco an absolutely huge part that dwarfed Tony and was, in all honesty, the plum role. He had the best lines, had all the fun parts, and even performed to the best song in the whole show, Disco Duck. (NOTE TO BEE GEES FANS: Yes, I know that almost any random Bee Gees song is better than Disco Duck,  but given the shabby way the Bee Gees were treated in this play, Disco Duck was the best song,) And the guy who played Tony onstage was- and this is hard to believe but it’s true- even stupider than Travolta was in the movie. Either the guy deserves an award for his acting or he is the biggest idiot on the planet… or at least on the seas.

disco duck

If you are familiar with Stop the Planet of The Apes, I Want to Get Off, you know pretty much how this play stacked up against the movie.

It was Saturday Night Fever minus some songs, without Tony’s iconic dance (yes, the pointy disco move- not there), and tarted up for the stage. By the time the entire cast came out at the end in sparkly sequined cliché outfits, I was feeling sick, but not from the sea.

They even changed the best line in the film. “He’s the horniest guy in Bay Ridge” became “He’s the biggest hound in town.” OK, maybe that isn’t the best line in the film, but it makes me laugh every time.

Overall, the play lost any of the grit and real feelings the film had, and just hit the highlights and major plot points without any real depth. On the other hand, the bar kept the drinks flowing so the audience was ready to applaud for anything. It would be nitpicky and petty of me to complain too much about a show that I saw, for free, on a cruise in the Caribbean. It would be small and snarky of me when I should instead realize just what a blessing it was to be in that theater, on that amazing ship, in such a beautiful part of the world.

But I am nitpicky and petty, small and snarky, and so I say that the play sucked.

A New York Minute (11)

16 Jan

January 16, 2012

This is your New York Minute.

Last week I told you about Henry Hudson sailing under the site of the Verrazano Bridge. Well, that bridge figures in today’s tale.

The Verrazano Bridge was named after Giovanni da Verrazzano, who was the first known explorer to enter New York Harbor, beating Henry Hudson by about 85 years. It spans The Narrows, a strip of water which connects Upper and Lower Gravesend Bay. It is also the closet point between Brooklyn and Staten Island, which is why the bridge was built there. Although the bridge was built in 1964, The Narrows goes back about 18,000 years to the end of the last ice age. Sorry, I don’t have an exact date for that. Before the Ice Age,Staten Island and Brooklyn were connected, but Staten Island retains a quieter identity of its own.

I could describe the bridge to you but odds are you’ve already seen it in a little movie called Saturday Night Fever. Set and filmed entirely in and around my neighborhood, that’s the film that made John Travolta a star. I stopped holding that against the movie years ago. There are many, many shots of the bridge- it’s a metaphor- and the part where Bobby C falls off the bridge was filmed on the actual roadway.

While I don’t remember much of the filming, I do remember the impact the film’s debut caused in the neighborhood. Everyone saw it, and saw it again, and saw it again. In fact, in the Marlboro Theater, it ran for years. It was constantly running.

You may remember the film’s opening scene. John Travolta is walking- no, strutting down a street, below the train tracks, eating a slice of pizza. That’s 86th Street and it was filmed one short block from my grandmother’s apartment. In fact, those are the same tracks and same streets that you see in the opening of Travolta’s TV show, Welcome Back Kotter and also in the fantastic 1971 Gene Hackman movie, The French Connection. That film has one of the best chase scenes ever filmed, as Popeye Doyle, played by Hackman, races his car through the traffic below to catch up to the speeding train on the tracks above.

But back to Saturday Night Fever. It is amazing the movie ever got made. I don’t mean because the studio had no faith in it, and that’s true, but what I’m talking about is the constant harassment by the people of Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge.

Men in the neighborhood hated John Travolta. Why? Because the women loved him. Every girl and young woman in this part of Brooklyn flocked to see him. The entire cast was mobbed wherever they went. The guys took their frustrations out on the cast and crew, especially Travolta, who had to endure threats and obscenities from the mostly rowdy teens.

If the harassment stopped there it would have been bad enough, but Bensonhurst in the 1970’s was, let’s say, a bit connected. Remember I said they were “mobbed” wherever they went? If you know the book or movie Donnie Brasco, those are the guys. No matter where they tried to film, the producers had to pay off about a dozen local hoods for the privilege of filming.

Even worse than the harassment and shakedowns was the bomb threat to the disco, where the company ended up paying a lot of protection money. 

The film was finished and the rest is movie and soundtrack history. Most of the places where they filmed are long gone- the paint store, the dance studio, the disco, even the theater I saw it in are just memories.

Of course the Verrazano Bridge is still there. And I am sure the arsenal of 1,500 rounds of ammunition discovered buried near the base of the bridge just a couple of years ago was only a coincidence.

This has been your New York Minute.

An audio version of this legend recently appeared in the amazing FlashPulp website. Check them out for awesomeness and goodies!

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