If you want to revisit the mood, music, and moves of the disco era, 54 Below has the perfect flashback for you on the first Wednesday of every month, for two shows per night, with its popular series Turn the Beat Around! Designed to capture both the joy and the decadence of the day, the event, produced and directed by Scott Coulter, features a concert of the greatest disco hits performed on stage by a roster of top NYC singers backed by a five-piece band; a pre-concert dance lesson with world-class instructors from the Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine Dance Studio, starting at 6:30 pm, included with admission to the early show; and a disco costume contest, with two tickets and a $100 voucher awarded to the Best Dressed at each performance. And it all takes place in the place where it happened!
The legendary nightclub Studio 54 opened on April 26, 1977, when disco was at its peak, in the space above the current cellar venue of 54 Below, which then served as a private VIP Room accessed by a hidden stairway. It quickly became known for its over-the-top parties, exclusive entry policies, and celebrity regulars that included such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields, and John Travolta. Though the club was short-lived, closing its doors in early 1980 (after its owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were convicted of tax evasion), it remains a landmark in the history of disco, and 54 Below is ensuring that its legacy is stayin’ alive.
Pierre-Antoine kicked off the evening, with the enthusiastic audience filling the dance floor and joining in for a 30-minute lesson on how to do the hustle. Then Coulter and the top-notch band, led by music director Michael Hollander on piano, opened the high-energy concert with a rousing performance of “Disco Inferno” under a silver mirrored disco ball and colorful flashing and revolving lights, setting the tone for a fast-paced 70 minutes of nearly non-stop performances of disco classics by a rapidly rotating roster of nine powerhouse singers.
Each of the featured vocalists delivered the authentic sound and stylings, high notes and long notes of the vintage favorites and kept the house dancing, clapping, and singing along. Jessica Hendy, wearing a pair of aviator glasses, followed Coulter with “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” returned for a dynamic duet with him on “It’s Raining Men,” and took the lead on “Last Dance” – the number that closed the show (and virtually every club of the time). In between were rhythmic deliveries of “Love Train” and “Funky Town” by Devin Roberts, the titular “Turn the Beat Around,” “Boogie Oogie Ooogie,” and “Enough Is Enough” by Susan Agin, and passionate renditions of “If I Can’t Have You” by Anthony Murphy and “Got To Be Real” by Kelli Rabke.
In addition to providing piano accompaniment, Holland sang a nostalgic medley of theme songs from two sit-coms and a commercial jingle of the period (“The Love Boat,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” and “The Jordache Look”). Coulter, on stage throughout the show, took on the feminist anthem “I Will Survive” by the “real Queen of Disco” Gloria Gaynor and went straight into “The Hustle.” He later joined Blaine Alden Krauss – who pumped up the energy level with an invigorating “Macho Man” in glittering sequin sleeves – on the electrifying “YMCA,” with the artists and the audience continuing the tradition of acting out the acronym with their arms. Other top personal favorites were Mike Schwitter’s hot moves and supercool voice on “Copacabana,” Lorinda Lisitza’s blockbuster “I Love the Night Life,” and Tyce Green’s sizzling “Hot Stuff,” masterfully sung while moving around the stage in a sparkling leopard-print suit.
Turn the Beat Around provides a fabulous evening of exhilarating covers of the best of disco. If you missed it this month, it will be back on a regular schedule, so get out your club wear, feel the beat, catch that Wednesday night fever, and join in on the retro fun!
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, plus a 30-minute pre-show dance lesson.
Turn the Beat Around plays again on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, and subsequent first Wednesdays of the month, at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $35-110, plus fees and a $25 food and beverage minimum per person), call (646) 476-3551, or go online. Masks are not required but may be worn at your discretion.