Studio 54, Donna Summer, Saturday Night Fever. Those are some of the things that come to mind when I hear the word Disco. Disco, derived from the French word discothèque, was a popular form of upbeat, urban music that dominated the radio airwaves from the mid-to-late 1970s. There was a backlash, and the Disco Demolition Night of July 1979 symbolically ended the craze.
Signature Theatre’s Disco Fever features many of the biggest hits from that era, as sung by Kaiyla Gross and Tobias A. Young. Under the musical direction of Mark G. Meadows, Disco Fever invites audiences to “leave their troubles at the door.”
I liked Gross’ smoky vocals in the Bee Gees ballad “More Than a Woman.” Formerly seen in Signature’s The Color Purple, Gross sang meaning into the lyrics.
Gross, in her sparkling catsuit, sang a good solo from “I Will Survive” by one of the Queens of Disco, Gloria Gaynor. That tune got people on their feet around the tables in the black box space.
“Raining Men” by the Weather Girls shook the audience with disco thunder. Young and Gross brought their best energy to that tune. I also loved the energy they put into “Le Freak” by Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.
Wearing an Afro wig and a glittery vest, Young (who was also in Signature’s The Color Purple) told audience members to imagine themselves at a disco, and “you look and see that handsome or beautiful person.” Young then launched into “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. The beat throbbed, and people grooved. That tune was an amazing mixture of vocals and instrumentation.
However, many of the songs featured stronger instrumentation than singing. “Burn Baby Burn” featured a good sax solo by Trey Sorrells. Oliver Dyer’s guitar solo punched up Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.” Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” had a groovy synthesizer solo by Natalie Brooke.
Barry White’s “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” could have used more bass from Young. The singing was technically strong, but I didn’t hear the belief in the lyrics.
Overall, the show was high on energy but low on soul. (Admittedly, the show’s previous two performances had been canceled due to an illness in the cast.) I expected more dancing between the tables. I got a sense that the performers didn’t always embody and put enough life into the “characters” within the songs they were singing; here and there, it felt as though they were merely singing the lyrics.
I expected to be electrified by songs like “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, and especially “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps. While those songs were serviceable, they didn’t get me grooving in my seat.
The show could have used video projection of, say, a full dance floor or perhaps a dance troupe. As it was, the “set” was merely a band, disco balls, and two singers. Disco Fever is a good musical jam session that offers a little over an hour of nostalgia and escapism.
Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.
This production is appropriate for all ages, but Signature does not admit children under 6.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional in the lobby, at cabarets, play readings, and all other public events. Signature’s COVID safety plans can be found here.
Music and Lyrics by:
Leo Green, Tyrone Kersey, “Disco Inferno”; Pete Bellotte, Harold Faltermeyer, Keith Forsey, “Hot Stuff”; Jon Lind, Allee Willis, “Boogie Wonderland”; Sylvester James, James Wirrick, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”; Sterling Radcliffe, Tony Sepe, Barry White, “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”; Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, “More Than a Woman”; Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson, “The Boss”; Clifton Davis, “Never Can Say Goodbye”; Frederick J. Perren, Dino Fekaris, “I Will Survive”; Paul Jabara, Bruce Roberts, “No More Tears”; Paul Jabara, Paul Schaffer, “It’s Raining Men”; Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, “Stayin’ Alive”; Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, “Le Freak”; Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards,” We are Family”; Paul Jabara, “Last Dance”; Gene McFadden, Jerry Cohen, John Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now”
Tobias A. Young
ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
Music Director/Director of Signature Cabarets: Mark G. Meadows
Artistic Advisor: Matthew Gardiner
Cabaret Associate Producer: Angelica Miguel
Piano/Keyboard: Natalie Brooke
Bass: Max Murray
Guitar: Oliver Dyer
Drums: Jheremy Thompson
Sax & Ewi: Trey Sorrells
Lighting Design: Chris Stull